Begin Rejects Reassessment of Compensation to Sinai Settlers

Premier Menachem Begin made it clear to his coalition partners today that there will be no reassessment of the 4.4 billion Shekel ($250 million) compensation payment to the Sinai settlers, authorized by the Cabinet last week and that he expects speedy approval by the Knesset Finance Committee.

Begin summoned the heads of the coalition factions to his home to impress upon them that “the affair must be over and done fast” because “it is not only a matter of money, it is also the peace treaty with Egypt which is at stake.” He acted after the Finance Committee balked at what several coalition members as well as the Labor opposition consider an excessive sum likely to touch off a new round of inflation.

The Cabinet approved the offer by a 5-4 vote last Thursday despite opposition by Finance Minister Yoram Aridor and Housing and Construction Minister David Levy. Begin cast the tie-breaking vote. The Finance Committee members who saw him today said they were impressed by his determination to pay the 4.4 billion Shekels without modifications or conditions.

Committee chairman Shlomo Lorincz said he expected approval within a week. But he indicated that the committee may insist that 20 percent of the payment be made in government index-linked bonds and at least part of the balance will be subject to income tax. He explained that the bonds would be non-negotiable for 5-10 years in order to cushion the inflationary impact of the payment.

FINANCE COMMITTEE DIVIDED

The Finance Committee membership is divided evenly between the coalition and the opposition. The outcome of its vote may hinge on the Tami faction, one of Begin’s coalition partners. The Tami representative on the committee, Deputy Absorption Minister Aharon Uzan, said he would vote against the compensation package. Begin reportedly had harsh words for Tami today. He warned the faction to respect the Cabinet’s decision. “Even a one vote margin is a majority,” he said.

The settlers in Yamit and other northern Sinai communities have not yet officially accepted the government’s offer and some complained yesterday that the compensation would be unfairly distributed with farmers receiving larger sums than businessmen and householders. The settlements must be abandoned by the time the eastern third of Sinai is returned to Egypt next April.

While the settlers are still threatening civil disobedience, an added complication is the heavy infiltration of northern Sinai by Gush Emunim militants and their supporters who insist that the territory will never be given up.

Hundreds of young people, mainly yeshiva students, entered the Yamit area last night and began to reassemble green-houses just dismantled by Jewish Agency workers for transport to relocation areas inside Israel. Army units stood by but made no attempt to interfere.

Officers said they were reporting to “higher authority.” They said the decision to take action would have to come from the politicians, not the army.

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