JERUSALEM (Jul. 15)
The Ministerial Settlement Committee today approved a burst of activity on the West Bank this week, culminating with the establishment of nine new settlements in the territory by next Sunday, the day before election day.
The infra-tructure for most of the nine has already been built and three to five additional new settlements got the Committee’s official stamp today. The five are in the heavily Arab-populated Samaria district where the Labor Alignment insists settlements should be avoided.
The fate of the new settlements may depend on which party wins the elections July 23. But even if Labor should be victorious, it would be presented with a fait accompli hard to undo.
The Labor Alignment has accused the government of playing politics with a serious, sensitive and divisive issue. It has complained to the Central Elections Committee that the ceremonial inaugurations of the new settlements represent the use of public funds for electioneering purposes.
Zeev Ben-Yosef, a senior official of the World Zionist Organization’s settlement department, denied today that the ruling Likud Party was trying to make political capital. Supreme Court Justice Gavriel Bach, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, warned, however, that if the ceremonials were used for electioneering, he would ban the use of government funds for the purpose.
During the past month the Likud government has invested some 500 million Shekels in nine “outposts” in the occupied territories, each the nucleus of a settlement. Roads have been built, electric power and water lines have been laid and 15 pre-fabricated housing units were trucked in. According to existing plans, new settlements will be erected daily during the coming week, four of them next Sunday with the firstfamilies moving in.
The new settlement drive led to an angry exchange between the co-chairmen of the WZO settlement department, Likud MK Mattityahu Drobless and Laborite Nissim Zvilli.
Zvilli, who succeeded veteran settlement expert Raanan Weitz on his retirement last month, charged that only three of the nine new settlements had been allotted funds. The rest were being financed from the regular operations budget, at the expense of other projects. He said moreover, that the decision to lay down nine new settlements by election day was taken without his knowledge.
Drobless insisted that his duty was to establish as many settlements as possible and that he had violated no regulations or exceeded his authority.
Former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, running for election at the head of his new Yahad Party, entered the fray over the weekend. He told an election rally at Herzliya that Jewish settlements on the West Bank were a defense liability, not an asset. In case of emergency, the Israel Defense Force would have to protect them, he said and in any case they were not a national priority.