Arensto Decide Whether to Turn over Portion of Hebron to Settlers

Defense Minister Moshe Arens will decide within the next few days whether to accede to demands by Jewish settlers to turn the central portion of Hebron over to them.

The area encompasses the bus station and the Arab market which Jewish militants from adjacent Kiryat Arba burned down on the night of July 7, following the fatal stabbing of a yeshiva student, Aharon Gross, by unidentified Arab assailants.

The market place and bus station have been under curfew and cordoned off for the past 10 days, with severe effects on commercial activity in Hebron, the second largest Arab town on the West Bank. Hundreds of Jewish settlers from Kiryat Arba and others who have already established themselves in Hebron converged today on a group of visiting members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

The settlers insist that the curfew remain in force and that the gutted marketplace be turned into a Jewish enclave. Such a decision rests with the Defense Minister, probably in consultation with Premier Menachem Begin. Local Arab merchants on the other hand, urged the Knesset members to restore the status quo ante.

SETTLERS DEMAND HARSHER MEASURES

The touring MKs, including both coalition and opposition members of the committee, admitted that there was little they could do to influence the final decision. At their meeting with Jewish settlers they heard a barrage of complaints over the alleged failure of the security forces to cope with “Arab incitors.” The settlers demanded harsher measures against Arabs who stone Jewish vehicles and suggested that deportation should be considered.

Eliahu Ben-Elissar, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, said he had no doubt that the old Jewish quarter in Hebron should be rehabilitated. But he insisted that no Arab property should be expropriated. He hinted that a possible solution would be to relocate the market and bus station to different sites and compensate the Arab vendors for their property losses.

The visit to Hebron was boycotted by senior Labor Alignment MKs, among them Shimon Peres, Haim Barlev, Yossi Sarid and Victor Shemtov. Shemtov, a leader of Mapam, said the visit for the purpose of studying conditions in Hebron should have included talks with representatives of the local Arab population, which it did not.

But another Labor Party leader, former Premier Yitzhak Rabin, said it was necessary for the committee members to visit the area and study the situation. “Whatever political solution is found in the area one should aspire to eliminate Arabs and Jews rubbing against each other,” Rabin said. “I am in favor of coexistence, but as little closeness as possible. Therefore, Kiryat Arba–yes, a Jewish settlement inside Hebron–no.”

Kiryat Arba, a religious township, was built adjacent to Hebron during the administration of a Laborled government after Jewish militants squatted in Hebron.

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