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Cabinet Decides Against Seizing Private Lands on the West Bank

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The Cabinet today strongly reaffirmed its declared policy of not seizing or sequestering privately owned Arab lands on the West Bank for the purpose of Jewish settlement and agreed to utilize only State owned lands or land privately owned by Jews for the expansion of seven existing or projected Gush Emunim settlements in the Judaea and Samaria regions.

The Cabinet decision, announced as “unanimous.” was seen here as a victory for Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and a setback for Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon and the Gush Emunim who have been urging the large-scale seizure of Arab lands to make room for massive Jewish settlement.

Dayan had warned last Thursday that he might resign from the government if the Cabinet acquiesced in the Gush demands. Weizman said on a television interview yesterday that the Cabinet should declare that it would not expropriate private Arab lands. Commenting on today’s decision, Weizman said the Cabinet had adopted a “wise” course. Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, leader of the Democratic Movement, also expressed satisfaction with the decision which evolved from a compromise proposed by Premier Menachem Begin.

Begin met privately before today’s session with Sharon and the three National Religious Party ministers to persuade them to go along with his proposal. Israel Radio reported that there were some “very tough exchanges indeed” between a number of ministers over the land expropriation issue. The lengthy debate — some five hours — left no time for discussion of another pressing matter, the controversial wage agreement with government lawyers. That will be taken up at a special session scheduled for Tuesday.

INDIVIDUAL SOLUTIONS FOR EACH SETTLEMENT

With respect to the seven settlements that the Gush Emunim insists must be enlarged if they are to exist, the Cabinet decided on individual solutions for each. The settlement of Givon will be extended partly on State-owned land and partly on land already owned by Jews; Beit Horon will be moved from its originally envisaged site to one on State-owned land; the planned urban settlement of Efrat will be built entirely on State lands; the existing settlements of Elkana and Kadumim will be expanded on State lands only.

The problems of Kadumim and another existing settlement, Ofra, will be considered by an interdepartmental committee “within the framework of the government’s policy not to seize or sequester privately owned land,” the Cabinet decided.

The immediate response of the Gush Emunim was that while the decision might alleviate the problems of particular settlements to some degree, it did not resolve what they called the “national problem.” The Gush has demanded the seizure of hundreds of thousands of dunams of Arab land for the purpose of Jewish settlement as the only way to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The NRP backed the Gush because, according to some observers, it is worried about the challenge from the newly created right-wing Tehiya (Renaissance) Party which has called for the annexation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights and a revision of the Camp David accords. The NRP has been divided on the issue of land seizures. Its senior leader, Interior Minister Yoset Burg, said last week that he opposed it in principle. But Education Minister Zevulun Hammer and party Whip Yehuda Ben-Meir have backed the Gush.

SENSITIVE TO ISRAEL’S IMAGE

The Cabinet’s decision seemed to reflect a heightened awareness among policy-makers of the damage done to Israel’s image abroad by reports of the seizure of Arab-owned lands for Jewish settlements. Dayan, who attended a meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, reported that Israel’s settlement policies and land expropriations were factors in the significant erosion of support for Israel among the Western European powers and a concommitant increase of sympathy for the Arab cause.

The issue of a wage hike for State-employed attornies also threatens a split in the government ranks. The wage agreement was reached, but Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich, just returned from an extensive visit abroad, said he could not implement it because it would set off a new series of wage demands by government employes that the Treasury could not afford. Yadin indicated the Democratic Movement would not accept any decision which does not honor the wage agreement already signed.

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