JERUSALEM (Oct. 8)
New demands by the Gush Emunim for the large-scale seizure of privately owned Arab land on the West Bank to make room for massive Jewish settlement there are expected to be taken up at a special Cabinet meeting later this week. But the issue appears to have created a split in the leadership of the National Religious Party, the principal supporter of the Gush Emunim in the government.
Interior Minister Yosef Burg of the NRP said on a radio interview that he did not necessarily see eye-to-eye with his colleagues, Education Minister Zevulun Hammer and party Whip Yehuda Ben-Meir, who favor land expropriations. Hammer and Ben-Meir met with Premier Menachem Begin last weekend to press the latest Gush demands and to request a special Cabinet meeting.
Ben-Meir said later that the Premier “showed great sympathy for the subject. We have grounds to believe and hope that the government will take the necessary steps to ensure the expansion of seven settlements which otherwise will not be able to exist. ” Another NRP source said that Hammer and Ben-Meir did not seek to persuade Begin because “they knew beforehand that he was convinced.”
But Burg said that Hammer and Ben-Meir did not speak on behalf of the NRP when they met with Begin over the Gush demands. He said that on this “matter of principle” he would vote his conscience and observed that special efforts should be made not to expropriate private land.
Burg also criticized the Gush for seizing land beyond the perimeters of their settlements in defiance of government restrictions. “I think that whatever is illegal is, indeed, illegal even if it is done out of good intentions, ” he said. He was apparently referring to the latest such incident. Last Thursday, members of the Tekoa settlement in the Judaea district broke out of their compound and erected tents, prefabricated huts and a succah on adjacent land. They withdrew when a military detachment arrived on the scene with orders from the Military Governor to remove them.
Yesterday, the Gush Secretariate demanded the immediate seizure of 50,000 acres of Arab-owned land in the Judaea and Samaria regions of the West Bank. They said the issue was not just the seven existing settlements they want expanded but to “fill a vacuum in the territories that would become a Palestinian state unless it was filled by Jews.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman who was believed to be opposed to land expropriations, reportedly told members of the Gush settlement of Ofra Friday that he would support the seizures when the matter comes before the Cabinet. Sources close to the Defense Minister said that while he prefers to have settlements established on government-owned land, he recognized the expansion needs of seven existing Gush settlements. Rabbi Moshe Levinger, leader of the Gush, criticized the government for “talking a lot but doing little” on the settlement issue.