Government Approval of New West Bank Settlements Denied, Confirmed

There seemed to be a question today whether the government has approved five new settlements on the West Bank, three of them in the Jericho area, as proposed by Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, head of the ministerial settlement committee.

Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin strongly denied earlier today that any government body had given such approval. But Cabinet Secretary Arye Naor said late today that the Cabinet, sitting as the ministerial security committee on June 28, decided to establish five new military outposts along the Jordan River. Yadin, leader of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), opposed the decision and demanded further discussions.

Naor did not elaborate today. But judging from Yadin’s comments today there was no further discussion of the subject. Yadin said earlier that there was no government decision on new settlements, which should mean that as far as he was concerned the government decision of June 28 was invalid.

Commenting on Naor’s announcement, Yadin said he would raise the issue before the Cabinet. The Cabinet is scheduled to meet tomorrow since its regular weekly session was postponed today due to Tisha B’av. Yadin said if the Cabinet approves the settlements, he will ask the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security committee for a ruling. Under the coalition agreement, the DMC ministers are entitled to have any decision on new settlements brought for approval to the Knesset committee.

SHARON TOLD VOLUNTEERS TO GET READY

It has been revealed that Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon met with the leaders of the various kibbutz and meshav settlement movements and told them of the government decision. He reportedly urged them to get their volunteers and resources ready for the task. The World Zionist Organization Settlement Department was also reportedly instructed to locate the sites for the new settlements–all on government land which did not need to be expropriated.

Most of the representatives of the settlement movements approved of the plan. Arik Nehemkin, secretary of the Labor Party-affiliated moshavin movement, even noted that the plan meshed with the settlement plans of the former Labor government. The only one who criticized the plan was the representative of the Mapamaffiliated Kibbutz Artzi movement.

Yisrael Galili, who was chairman of the Ministerial Settlement Committee in the Rabin government, said today that not all of the five settlements planned were in accordance with the previous government settlement plans. Sharon reportedly told the representatives that if they do not act now, it might not be possible to act next year.

As soon as the meeting between Sharon and the leader of the settlement movements was leaked to the press, there were two developments: the military censor banned the story for publication and Sharon suspended all further contacts with the settlement movements.

The story might have remained secret had not Labor Alignment MK Yassi Sarid protested that decisions on settlements were protected by a veil of military secrecy, and had not activists of the “Peace Now” movement plastered posters on walls and buildings in Jerusalem and other major cities informing the public of the decision. The contents of the posters were then published in the local press and the military censor lifted his publication ban today.

Peace Now spokesmen said such a settlement move is an obstacle to peace and could halt the momentum resulting from President Carter’s invitation to Premier Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to meet with him at Camp David in Maryland Sept. 5. Police tore down many of the posters and seven movement members were arrested but released later without charges.

MAJOR COUP BY PEACE NOW MOVEMENT

Meanwhile, in a major coup, the Peace Now movement put up a 25-foot high monument today alongside the controversial Gush Emunim “archaeological” settlement at Shiloh on the West Bank. The monument, called “Peace,” by Israeli sculptor Yigal Tumarkin, is an abstract expression of a dove in clay and steel. Peace Now leader Amos Arielei told some 3000 supporters that Shiloh was “chosen as the site for the peace monument because it was the very symbol of government obduracy and deceit.”

Other speakers voiced the hope that the monument rather than the settlement would remain and that when peace comes it would commemorate the inauguration of Arab-Israeli coexistence.

Members of the Shiloh settlement claimed that they were deceived by the Peace Now people who had constructed the monument’s base 10 days ago and told them it was a communications antenna. The Gush Emunim settlers said they even watered the base daily so that it would harden properly and were thus perturbed to find out that it would be the base for the peace monument. The military police was caught off guard by today’s Peace Now demonstration. Although the demonstrators had no permit the army did not hamper the ceremony.

NEXT STORY