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Government to Seek Alternative Site for Elon Moreh, Special Cabinet Session Thursday to Discuss Issu

A divided Cabinet took “note” today of Premier Menachem Begin’s announcement that the government will seek an alternative site for the Gush Emunim settlement of Elon Moreh which the Supreme Court has ordered removed from the seized Arab lands it now occupies. But a broad debate on the settlements issue and the wider implications of the high court’s decision was deferred until Thursday when the Cabinet will meet in special session to discuss the subject.

Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon and Education Minister Zevulun Hammer dissented sharply from Begin’s plan to move Elon Moreh. Sharon criticized the Cabinet for “dodging the issue.” Hammer, a leader of the National Religious Party, met with Begin later to present an NRP plan that would shift the Elon Moreh settlers to State-owned land but would not return the disputed land to its Arab owners. Instead, the site would be used for military installations. Observers said that most ministers would consider the plan a flouting of the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision and it could not muster a Cabinet majority.

SEES MORE SETTLEMENT EFFORTS

In a radio interview over the weekend, Sharon said the high court’s ruling should be a spur to more intensive settlement efforts on the West Bank and urged that the court, in the future be relieved of “the burden of having to make political decisions.” Sharon did not elaborate on his remarks but they brought an immediate demand for his ouster from the youth circles of the Liberal Party.

The Agriculture Minister was apparently voicing the demands of the Gush Emunim for legislation that would retroactively nullify the Supreme Court’s decision, thereby preserving Elon Moreh and allowing the continued seizure of privately owned land for settlement purposes. Sources close to Begin said today that there was no Cabinet majority for such legislation.

The sources were quoted as saying that if the Gush Emunim forced a crisis by refusing to evacuate Elon Moreh, the consequences would be a new government with much less sympathy for Jewish settlements on the West Bank. It was learned that during today’s Cabinet session, Housing Minister David Levy of Herut spoke forcefully for standing up to the Gush. He warned that the government must not allow itself to be dictated to by that group and should announce unequivocally that it intends to implement the Supreme Court’s decision and remove Elon Moreh from its present site.

There was speculation tonight that if government lawyers and the Gush Emunim fail to reach a mutually acceptable solution in the next few days, Begin would turn in his mandate.

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