JERUSALEM (Dec. 8)
Israel may soon have to come to grips with the problem of the Gaza Strip–whether the continued occupation of that territory of less than 200 square miles with an Arab population of 600,000 is essential to Israel’s security and worth the cost of maintaining law and order there.
The issue moved to the fore this week following another fatal stabbing of an Israeli citizen, Shlomo Takal, 45, who was knifed in the back of his neck in the main square of Gaza on Sunday.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee Monday that the Gaza Strip should be demilitarized under Israeli supervision and the Jewish settlements in the territory dismantled. About 2,000 Jewish settlers live in the Gaza Strip and are as militant as their 50,000 compatriots who live in the West Bank.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir blasted Peres’ proposal Tuesday, assuring his Likud Knesset faction “it will never be.” He said it was “hard to understand people who want to put Israel on the operating table” during this week’s summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
While the future status of the West Bank is at the core of the split between right and left in Israel, many Israelis of both camps feel that Israel’s interests in the Gaza Strip, though vital, are of short-term value.
Eliahu Ben-Elissar, a prominent member of Likud’s Herut wing, who was Israel’s first ambassador to Egypt, admitted recently that the densely populated Gaza Strip, where over half the Arab population lives in refugee camps, is more of a nuisance than an asset.
The territory was seized from Egypt during the Six-Day War in 1967 and has been a trouble spot ever since.
Peres used demographic arguments to support his views. “Very soon there will be one million Arabs in the Strip. Where will you settle them? In the Negev?” he asked the Knesset committee members.
Peres’ remarks triggered a new confrontation with right-wingers. Tehiya leader Yuval Neeman, at a news conference Tuesday, denounced Peres’ suggestion that Jewish settlements be dismantled. He maintained that the suggestion itself would lead to more violence in the territories, which he said are filled with terrorists who feel they can get away with anything.
Tehiya announced it would introduce a motion of no confidence in the government to protest the “deterioration of the security situation in the territories.”
The Likud faction on the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee said it would summon Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin to reply to complaints that the IDF was no longer effectively combatting terrorism and subversion in the administered territories.
Meanwhile, security forces continued to search for Takal’s assailant. Most of the suspects detained for questioning have been released and the curfew imposed on downtown Gaza Sunday was lifted Tuesday morning.
Takal’s murder was the latest in a series of assaults on Israelis in Gaza in the past year. Yisrael Kitaro, a 43-year-old taxi driver from Ashkelon, was fatally stabbed there on Oct. 7, 1986. Ten days earlier, on Sept. 27, Haim Azran, 35, also from Ashkelon, died of knife wounds inflicted while he was shopping in the Gaza marketplace.