JERUSALEM (Jan. 1)
The Cabinet’s decision Sunday to extend the deadline for the removal of Elon March for another Five weeks raised a bitter debate in the Knesset yesterday and appears to have triggered new legal action to oust the settlers.
While Premier Menachem Begin defended the Cabinet’s action before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, two lawyers who represent Arab landowners from nearby Rujeib village announced that they will seek a new order from the high court to have the settlers removed immediately. Elios Khouri and Amnon Zichroni said they represented 14 Arab landowners from Rujeib on whose plots the Gust ### settlement is located.
Last Oct. 22, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of 17 Arab landowners when it found that Elon March was established illegally on Arab land seized for “security” reasons that, in fact, did not exist. The parcels of land cited in the original appeal were returned to their owners last month. But the Cabinet delayed the evacuation of the bulk of the land for six weeks in order to allow time for the construction of a new settlement at Djebil Kebir, six miles away.
The Cabinet Sunday granted a second extension on grounds that bad weather had delayed construction work and the new settlement could not possibly be completed by the Jan. 3 deadline. The Cabinet acted despite a warning by Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir that if the extension was challenged in court, the government would have no case.
BEGIN: CABINET DECISION WAS LEGAL
But Begin claimed yesterday that the Cabinet’s decision was “totally legal” and a “merely technical” move that in no way violated the Supreme Court’s evacuation order. He said that while Zamir had the right and duty to present his views, the Cabinet was responsible for the final decision. Begin also invoked humanitarian considerations. He said the women and children at Elon March needed time to prepare for the move and the new settlement of Djebil Kebir must be ready to receive them.
This was angrily disputed by Labor MK Yossi Sarid who accused Begin of reneging or his promise six weeks ago that the extension granted Elon March would be the last, He said Djebil Kebir was delayed because the government began work on the new settlement only these week ago waiting for the Gush Emunim to agree to leave peacefully. “Instead of evacuating Elon March, Elon March occupies the Cabinet table whenever the Gush Emunim wishes so. ” Sarid said. Another labor MK, Micho Harish, warned that the vacillation over Elon March has damaged Israel’s reputation abroad.
The Labor Alignment said it will introduce a motion of no-confidence in the government on the issue. Similar motions are expected from the Sheli faction and the Communist Party.
Begin said that the decision in principle to evacuate Elon March remained in effect and would be evacuated. He expressed confidence that the ### would transfer peacefully to Djebil Kebir. But this remained in doubt. Elon March spokesman Benny Kotzover said last night that he welcomed new court action because it would provide the opportunity to expose the “PLO connections” of the Arab landowners.
Other Elon March leader emphasized that the settlers will not leave until Israel’s right to seize Arab land anywhere on the west Bank for settlement purposes is affirmed by new legislation that would bar future challenges of such settlements. Such a measure would almost certainly be defeated by the Knesset and is therefore unacceptable to Begin’s government.