Defense Ministry Considering Expanding Gush Settlements Area

The Defense Ministry is considering proposals to expand the area of the controversial Gush Emunim settlements on the West Bank, a move that has already aroused protests from neighboring Arab villagers and could have political repercussions at home and abroad.

If the Ministry decides to go ahead, four Gush settlements near Jerusalem will be the immediate recipients of 100-250 additional acres of land each which they claim is not owned by Arabs but is government property. Defense Ministry sources have stressed that so far they are only looking into the issue following a visit to the settlements last week by Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori, and that there has been no decision, even in principle, to seize the land.

A group of Arab residents near the Nabi Salah settlement north of Jerusalem filed an injunction in the Supreme Court yesterday against the seizure. The plan must be approved by the Cabinet before it can be implemented.

Last week, the Ministerial Settlement Committee announced that it would review shortly a plan to “thicken” six settlements, four of them surrounding Jerusalem and the others in the Samaria district. The apparent intensification of settlement activity on the West Bank has coincided with reports that the military government plans to expropriate Arab lands there valued at millions of Pounds whose owners live abroad.

NO CONFIRMATION OF NEW POLICY

Until now, the government has distinguished between land belonging to Arabs who fled to “enemy,” i.e. other Arab countries, and those who became residence of neutral or Western countries. In the former case, the land was considered abandoned property and taken over by the government .But many Arabs now living in the West left their property in the hands of other Arabs whom they furnished with powers of attorney.

They have been recognized as the legal owners but the military government reportedly intends to abolish the distinction. According to some reports, former West Bankers in the U.S. have organized groups to petition the U.S. government to restrain Israel from taking over their property.

There has been no confirmation of any new policy on the part of the government. But Yaacov Vaknin, director general of the Israel Lands Administration, told reporters today that new directive have been issued against allegedly forged powers of attorney. According to press reports, the measures were taken on the basis of reports that enemy organizations have bought absentee Arab property to keep it from falling into Israel’s hands.

The entire issue of real estate transactions on the West Bank is cloaked in a veil of secrecy and it is difficult to get any on-the-record comments from either Arabs or Jews.

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