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Cabinet Approves Expansion of Existing West Bank Settlements

The Cabinet decided yesterday to embark immediately on a massive program to expand existing settlements on the West Bank and Golan Heights. Israel Radio reported this morning that some IL 300 million has been earmarked for the purpose. Initial reports that this activity would not begin until after the three-month freeze on West Bank settlements agreed to by Israel at Camp David were “clarified” this morning. (See separate story for reaction in Washington.)

Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, before emplaning for Washington to resume the peace treaty negotiations with Egypt, made it clear that the freeze applies only to new settlements. He claimed that Israel has always had the right to expand existing settlements and must protect this right. Israel Radio said expansion work on the West Bank, Jordan Valley and Golan will include the removal of civilian settlers from temporary to permanent housing.

The number of settlers on the Golan Heights will be increased from 4000 to 10,000 within a short period of time, the report said. The Golan was not included in the Camp David agreements except in the context of a broad phrase saying that the principles and provisions of the agreements should apply to other Arab countries.

TWO-FOLD PURPOSE CITED

Israel’s renewed assertiveness on the matter of the occupied territories appeared to have a two-fold purpose: to appease hardline critics of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty draft and the Camp David accords within Premier Menachem Begin’s coalition and to serve notice on the U.S. that Israel has no intention of modifying its claims to the territories. This was accompanied by Begin’s statement to the Likud Knesset faction last night that he intends to move the Prime Minister’s Office and other government offices and ministries to East Jerusalem.

His speech to his Likud constituents was a direct attack on the U.S. position toward the West Bank settlements, which it regards as an obstacle to peace, and on the latest American effort to modify the opposition of West Bank leaders toward the Camp David accords. Invoking his off repeated claim that the West Bank belonged to Israel by Biblical heritage, Begin assailed the activities of Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders who met with local Arab dignitaries during his visit here last week.

The U.S. official reportedly restated the Carter Administration position that the U.S. did not recognize Israel’s “annexation” of East Jerusalem after the Six-Day War and that it regarded Jewish settlements on the West Bank as illegal.

REBUKES ‘ALIEN STATESMEN’

Without mentioning Saunders by name, Begin declared “We are a sovereign state” and will not agree that “alien statesmen” will conduct political negotiations within Israel’s borders and the territories held by it. This went over well with the Likud MKs. The faction voted 24-2 to approve the Israeli-Egyptian treaty draft that the Cabinet adopted, with “amendments,” yesterday by a vote of 15-0. Only Herut die-hards Geula Cohen and Moshe Shamir voted against the draft.

Similarly, Begin’s words cooled down the apposition within the National Religious Party Knesset faction. Its chairman, Yehuda Ben-Meir, said the decision to move the ministries to East Jerusalem was “Israel’s only possible answer for Saunders visit.”

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