Cabinet Refrains from Acting on Settlers in Northern Sinai

The Cabinet refrained from taking decisive action today to reduce the threat of a violent confrontation with settlers in northern Sinai which must be returned to Egypt next April.

The settlers, re-enforced daily by hundreds of militants from other occupied territories and various parts of Israel, have threatened “war” against anyone who tries to remove them from their homes. They were reported today to be digging trenches around Yamit, the principal town in the region.

The Cabinet, in a vaguely worded resolution, authorized Defense Minister Ariel Sharon to “preserve law and order” in the town. It called on the settlers to renew their negotiations with the government for compensation to relocate.

SQUATTERS POURING INTO NORTHERN SINAI

A ministerial negotiating committee was named last week, consisting of Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Simcha Ehrlich, Finance Minister Yoram Aridor and Housing and Construction Minister David Levy. But negotiations have not been resumed and squatters continued to poor into northern Sinai, occupying homes abandoned by settlers who have accepted compensation and gone elsewhere.

Last Thursday, 108 families moved into Yamit in a convoy of 60 vehicles. The army and police made no attempt to stop them and they received encouragement from Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren who visited the town to celebrate Chanukah.

The Cabinet was split over how to deal with this situation. A number of ministers have demanded an immediate crackdown. Communications Minister Mordechai Zipori and others declared there was no justification to treat law breakers in Yamit different from law breakers anywhere else. Zipori accused Sharon of responsibility for the deteriorating situation.

GOVERNMENT INTENDS TO IMPLEMENT PEACE TREATY

Cabinet Secretary Arye Naor said the government intends to carry out its obligations under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty to the letter and will complete the evacuation of Sinai next April “with or without the agreement of the good people of the movement to halt the withdrawal.”

Ehrlich, who is in charge of the Sinai withdrawal, said that if a compensation agreement could be worked out, all residents would be removed by next March. 31. He added, however, that nothing could be done to prevent new residents from moving in and that the squatters were not violating the law by occupying vacated houses.

He was promptly criticized by opposition members of the Knesset for inviting the Gush Emunim and other ultra-nationalists to defy the government, making it more difficult to remove them when the time comes.

Many Yamit residents are willing to move but are holding out for a better offer of compensation from the government for the businessess, homes and farms they will have to abandon. The ideologically motivated settlers, their numbers enlarged by the squatters, declare they will not leave Sinai under any circumstances. They are, in fact, repairing greenhouses and farms as if there was no question of evacuating in a few month’s time.

These people, members of the rightwing Tehiya faction, the “Movement to Halt the Withdrawal” and the Gush Emunim, are trying to collect one million signatures on a petition demanding that the government renege on the Sinai withdrawal clause of its peace treaty with Egypt.

NEXT STORY