Benvenisti Warns That a Compromise over the West Bank Must Be Made in the Next 36 Months

Meron Benvenisti, former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, warned here today that there are about 36 months left to reach a territorial compromise over the West Bank before the Jewish population there becomes so large that such a solution is impossible.

Benvenisti’s remarks were made at a meeting sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute at which he discussed his study, “The West Bank Data Project, ” an analysis of Israel’s government policy on the West Bank, expected to be completed soon.

There are 25,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank now, according to Benvenisti. He said the government of Premier Menachem Begin wants to increase this to 100,000, a number they call the “critical mass.” He said the government believes that if there are 100,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank no Israeli government would be able to make a territorial compromise because of the large number of Jaw living there.

OUTLINES GROWTH OF JEWISH POPULATION

Benvenisti said he believes the 100,000 mark could be reached by 1986 or 1987. “If anything should be done it should be done now,” he said. He said it was pointless to quote public opinion polls showing that a majority of Israelis are opposed to territorial compromise on the West Bank.

He recalled that before Camp David, most Israelis opposed giving Sinai book to Egypt. But once Begin brought back the completed accords, a majority of Israelis supported the Sinai withdrawal. If the Israelis are given a “clear choice,” they might support territorial compromise on the West Bank, he said.

Benvenisti said the government’s method of reaching 100,000 population is to concentrate not on agricultural settlements such as were set up on the West Bank in the past but to build 10 urban centers with a potential for thousands of people. He said the government is providing economic incentives for Israel is to go to the territory.

In that connection, Benvenisti noted that the settlements are close to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Israelis can obtain housing in them from one-fourth to one-half of what they would pay in Israel proper. He reported that one settlement is advertising three-level villas for $90,000 for which a government mortgage covers half. In Israel, such housing would not even be available and if it were it would cost about $200,000, he said.

Some 3,000-4,000 units are being built each year, housing about 12,-15,000 people, Benvenisti said. He noted that even Histadrut companies are building some of the houses. He said that 55-60 percent of the land on the West Bank is now in Jewish hands or is available for Jewish settlement under various laws. He said the government is “in no rush” to take over land still available to it and does so only when the land is needed.

The government does not need to annex the territory because it has established a “quasi-permanent system,” Benvenisti said. He said it has created a dual system to govern the West Bank, with Jewish settlers subject to Israeli law and the Arab residents under a new civilian law which has replaced the former military government.

The new civilian law, Benvenisti said, left the military with the powers that Israel has refused to give up to the autonomy authority envisioned under the Camp David agreements. It has abolished the military commander of the West Bank and replaced him by the commander of Israeli forces in the Judaea and Samaria regions who is also commander of the Tel Aviv region where his headquarters are located. Benvenisti said that since Camp David, Israel has accelerated this process to create a “fait accompli” for the autonomy negotiations.

LISTS SOME SIGNIFICANT FIGURES

Benvenisti’s study is a pilot project sponsored by City University of New York’s Institute for Middle East Peace and Development. Benvenisti listed some significant figures today. He said he found there are some 700,000 Arabs on the West Bank and 500,000 in the Gaza Strip. He said that while the Arab birthrate on the West Bank is high, the actual increase of Arab population has been only 1.4 percent. The reason is because many Arabs leave the area to work in other countries. He put their number at about 100,000 since 1968.

Benvenisti said that about 50 percent of the West Bank Arab work force works in Israel. Unlike Gaza Arabs who can work in Israel but are restricted from leaving, West Bank Arabs may go abroad to find work when there is a lack of it in the region. Benvenisti also noted that the Jewish growth rate in Israel is 2.3 percent against 3.9 percent for Israeli Arabs.

He said that while the argument in Israel has been over whether to locate Jewish settlements near or away from Arab population centers, the greatest growth of the Arab population on the West Bank has been just outside of Jerusalem rather than in the more distant Samaria’s region.

Benvenisti said Israel has not done much to develop the West Bank economically even though 20 percent of its exports go there. He noted that the annual budget for agricultural settlements in the territory is 644 million Shekels while the military development budget is 437million Shekels.

Benvenisti also pointed out that water is no longer an issue in the territory. He said that Israel is concentrating on urban settlements whose water needs are infinitesimal compared to those of agricultural settlements.

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