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Polarization on Settlements Issue

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The growing polarization in Israel over the government’s settlement policy on the West Bank, especially the controversial Gush Emunim settlement of Alon Moreh near Nablus, become dramatically apparent in one of the stormiest debates in the Knesset’s history yesterday and its aftermath today.

Two motions criticizing the settlements, submitted by Labor. MK Yossi Sarid and Tawfik Toubi of the Communist Party, were easily defeated by the coalition majority. Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, speaking for the government, attacked the opposition, as a “fifth column” trying to halt the march of “true Zionism.” He was furiously heckled throughout his speech, especially for remarks impugning a Druze television reporter which drew shouts of “racism” and his personal attack on Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres.

In a radio interview this morning, Sharon refused to retract or apologize. He claimed that the opposition was willing to jeopardize the security of Israel in order to regain power and reiterated his insistence that massive settlements in the occupied territories were essential to security. Sharon was sharply attacked by most Israeli newspapers today for his Knesset remarks.

SHARON REPLIES TO U.S. JEWISH LEADERS

Sharon spoke on the radio after meeting with a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, headed by its chairman, Theodore Mann. Asked by reporters it the Americans had told him they found it “difficult explaining the necessity of the settlements in the U.S.,” a remark reportedly made by Mann during his meeting with Premier Menachem Begin yesterday, Sharon replied: “The question is not what is hard to explain but rather what should be done in the territories and the settlements are vital to the security of the State.”

The latest flare-up over the settlements issue began last weekend when some 3000 members of the peace Now Movement surrounded the site of Alon Moreh and blocked an access road to protest the government’s approval of that settlement and the expropriation of Arab-owned land for it at a time when Israel is negotiating with Egypt and the U.S. over autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The settlement was also criticized by the State Department and the White House.

On Tuesday, Begin lashed out against the critics in a personally drafted statement submitted to the media in which he insisted on Israel’s “full right to settle in all parts of Eretz Israel” and said those who call it “provocation” follow “the evil path of the enemies of our people.”

Sharon, a member of Israel’s six-man ministerial delegation to the autonomy talks, addressed the Knesset only a day after he returned from Alexandria where the first working session was held. He spoke in response to four agenda motions–two by the opposition and two by coalition MKs criticizing the peace Now demonstration at Alon Moreh. He approved the latter as “Zionist motions” and excoriated the former as “non-Zionist motions.” Meir Talmi of Mapam, accused Sharon of “insulting Zionism” and Sheli MK Uri Avneri called him “a racist.” But Sharon went on. “No fifth column will half the march of true-Zionism, no band of hypocrites will succeed in sabotaging true Zionism,” he said.

Temperatures rose when Sharon spoke mockingly of a television report on Alon Moreh by “that trust- worthy reporter Rafiq Halabi.” Halabi, a Druze, covers the West Bank for Israeli television. Druze MK Zeidon Atshe shouted at Sharon, “That’s racism” and Chaika Grossman of Mapam called out, “You are simply inciting.” When she demanded that he retract, Sharon shouted back, “Neither you nor the likes of you will ever get me to retract words of truth.” He taunted the opposition: “While you are heckling me we lay another meter of pipeline, another kilometer of mad and build another house.” At that, Labor MK Adiel Amorai shouted, “You are infantile.”

Sharon shifted his attack to Peres. “What kind of expert is the man who saw himself as the next Prime Minister who has not served a single day in the Israel Defense Force?” he asked. In a television interview later, Peres reminded Sharon that he had served in the army “from a private to a Defense Minister” and attacked the Herut minister’s “verbal violence.”

The Jerusalem Post was one of many Israeli newspapers that deplored Sharon editorially today. “Mr. Begin may be deluded into believing that he has a political asset in a man of this nature. If he does, he is badly mistaken. Sharon should be leashed on a tight rein rather than be given carte blanche to ride roughshod over Israel,” the Post said.

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