Cabinet Again Defers Decision on Hebron Issue

The Cabinet, meeting in regular session today, once again postponed a decision on the controversial issue of resettling Jews in Hebron. It was the second time in two weeks that the government avoided acting on its February 10 declaration in principle that Jews have a right to live in that West Bank Arab town.

According to observers here, Premier Menachem Begin prefers to wait until after the exchange of ambassadors with Egypt, scheduled for this Tuesday, before reviving discussion of the matter which has drawn strong criticism from the U.S. and Egypt. The government is under heavy pressure from nationalist and religious militants to take over buildings in Hebron that belonged to Jews more than 50 years ago and prepare them for occupancy by Jewish families from nearby Kiryat Arba.

Opinion in Israel is sharply divided over the wisdom of such a move at this time. Informed sources said that a compromise proposal advanced by Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Nissim of Likud’s Liberal Party wing, is the course most likely to be favored by Begin and urged by him on his Cabinet colleagues. Nissim suggested that instead of settling Jewish families in Hebron, the government establish institutions of learning in two of the available buildings there. They would, in effect, be branches of Kiryat Arba’s Hesder Yeshiva whose student body is organized on para-military lines and performs guard and patrol duties.

Advocates of that proposal argue that it would implement the principle of a Jewish presence in Hebron without introducing a Jewish residential population in the densely Arab-population town. Yehoshua Sloma, the 23-year-old yeshiva student who was murdered in Hebron on January 31 was a Hesder student. The murder brought me long-simmering Hebron issue to a boil and prompted the Cabinet’s declaration in principle.

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