Rabin Halts Bulldozers Sent by Sharon for West Bank Settlement

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin used his authority Sunday to turn back a convoy of bulldozers sent to level ground for a new settlement in the West Bank.

His action marked the latest round in the continuing struggle between Labor and Likud over new settlements in the administered territories. The bulldozers were sent to the site of the planned settlement by Herut Minister of Commerce and Industry Ariel Sharon.

Although Sharon apparently acted on his own initiative, he was aiming for swift implementation of Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s promise to the Tehiya Party over the weekend to allocate 50 million Shekels to expand Jewish settlements in the territories.

Laborites promptly announced that not one cent would be spent for that purpose without their agreement. The settlement in question–Avnei Hefetz, near Kalkilya — was one of six approved under the Labor-Likud coalition agreement. But Defense Ministry sources said the ground-breaking could not proceed until the settlement agency provided proof that it owned the land. So far, the sources said, no evidence has been presented, and in any case, Sharon’s ministry is not “a settlement agency.”

Shamir made his promise to Tehiya after it served an ultimatum that it would join Labor in voting to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections unless its demands were met for rapid expansion of Jewish settlements.

Tehiya did not react immediately to Rabin’s action. The party’s central bodies were scheduled to meet later Sunday to evaluate the situation. Meanwhile, its position is “wait and see.”

Hadashot reported Sunday that Labor intends to refer the issue of the settlements budget to the 10-man Inner Cabinet (five Labor and five Likud) where, it hopes, it will be buried until after the next elections.

Labor Party Secretary General Uzi Baram was quoted as saying Labor “will not allow even one bit to be added to the settlement budget.” He noted that “according to the coalition agreement, the issue must be decided by the Inner Cabinet” which is the government’s top policy-making body.

“If Likud says that the settlement budget has not yet been fully used, we say that the education and health budgets also have not been fully put into effect, since all government budgets have been cut,” Baram said.

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