At the 30th World Zionist Congress: Begin Defends Government’s Settlement Policies: Plenum Approves
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At the 30th World Zionist Congress: Begin Defends Government’s Settlement Policies: Plenum Approves

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Premier Menachem Begin addressed the closing session of the 30th World Zionist Congress here today. His speech was, in effect, a defense of his government’s settlement policies which were sharply criticized by Labor Party leader Shimon Peres in his address to the Congress yesterday.

The Congress plenum, in fact, approved a Labor Alignment resolution critical of the government’s settlement policies but the Presidium refused to accept it. This was believed to be the first time a Zionist Congress has disapproved of a policy of an Israeli government.

Begin spoke in a moderate, non-polemical vein. It was his first public appearance outside the Knesset since the death of his wife, Aliza on November 14. The Premier, who just ended the 30-day mourning period, accepted condolences on behalf of the Congress delegates from Ivan Novick, president of the Zionist Organization of America. He was warmly received by the thousands of delegates and guests in the Binyanei Ha’ooma convention hall and his speech was interrupted many times by applause.


Begin offered rebuttal to charges yesterday by Labor Party leader Shimon Peres that the government’s settlement policies were leading Israel toward a “military future” and that continued rule over more than a million Arabs could make Jews eventually a minority in their own country.

According to Begin, peace cannot be achieved by giving up parts of “Eretz Israel.” If any foreign power were to control the hills west of the Jordan Valley, life in Israel would become “hell,” he said. “Our right to Eretz Israel is totally linked to national security,” he declared.

Begin maintained that demographic forecasts have proven wrong. The number of Arabs in what he termed the land of Israel decreased in the past 15 years whereas the Jewish population grew by one percent annually, he said. “True, the Arab minority in Eretz Israel is big. But the Jewish majority is also very big — nearly two thirds,” Begin observed. According to the 1981 census, 5,213,000 people live in Israel proper and the occupied territories of whom 3,320,000 or about 64 percent are Jews.

The Labor Alignment resolution approved yesterday opposed continued settlement activity in the heavily Arab populated areas of the West Bank. The Presidium promptly rejected the vote and an ad hoc committee was formed to find a way out of the controversy. It is seeking a formulation acceptable to both Labor and Likud.

Begin insisted that Israel has the right to settle “all of Eretz Israel” and said it would continue to control security on the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the autonomy plan he proposes. He acknowledged that there are problems in relations with Egypt but stressed that the three-year-old peace treaty is holding. Israel is now seeking peace with all of its Arab neighbors, he said.


He expressed hope that an agreement will be reached soon with Lebanon. Israel does not want an inch of Lebanese territory. It supports Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said. It wants to see all foreign forces out of Lebanon. Israel will agree to leave simultaneously with the Syrians if the Palestine Liberation Organization leaves first, Begin said.

Begin made no reference to Israel’s relations with the United States. In the name of the Zionist Congress he called on the Soviet Union to “free the Prisoners of Zion.” He pledged that Israel would do everything possible to aid Jews in the USSR, Syria, Ethiopia and elsewhere. “No one can doubt we are facing crises today, but we have done so in the past and I am confident we shall overcome,” Begin said.


The Congress, which opened on December 7, was a stormy one, marked by fierce partisanship and numerous outbursts of heckling and other disorders. But Leon Dulzin, chairman of the World Zionist Organization Executive, expressed satisfaction with the proceedings despite the overheated atmosphere.

Interviewed on Voice of Israel Radio after the closing session, he said what he saw in the Binyanei Ha-ooma convention hall was an outpouring of love for Israel. That was certainly satisfying, he said.

Dulzin attributed the heckling and disturbances during the Congress sessions to a marginal group of 20-30 individuals Most of the delegates behaved respectfully, he said. He agreed that Jews of Middle Eastern origin deserved greater representation in the Zionist movement but nothing could be done about it because the movement was in the hands of political parties. In his keynote address last week, Dulzin urged that the WZO be reorganized on a geographic rather than a partisan basis.

He said that despite the gloomy picture of aliya, it must be remembered that a quarter of a million Jews from the West have settled in Israel since the State was founded. “It is contrary to human nature that people come from more advanced countries and that is the Zionist strength,” he said, adding, “I have no doubt that immigration will continue.”

Dulzin said the political bargaining over the composition of the new WZO Executive was a part of political reality. The wheeling and dealing was still going on late this afternoon.

Dulzin, with Begin’s help, was making a last-minute effort to reshuffle portfolios to satisfy opposing parties. Avraham Katz, a Knesset member of Likud’s Liberal Party wing, was being urged to give up the youth and hechalutz department in favor of the Labor Alignment. The National Religious Party, a coalition partner, was under heavy pressure to relinquish the youth aliya portfolio to Katz.

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