JERUSALEM (Apr. 8)
The Cabinet decided today against permitting Israeli firms or individuals to buy land in the administered territories. The Cabinet acted on the matter at a three-and-a-half hour session during which the principal proponents of free land purchases in the territories–Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Justice Minister Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro–withdrew their proposals to legalize such transactions.
Dayan, Shapiro and Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig who had a similar proposal, reportedly backed down at the urging of Premier Golda Meir Mrs. Meir had said categorically that she would not support proposals to change the existing situation.
The Cabinet’s decision was seen as a blow to Gen. Dayan who has been taking his advocacy of free land purchases by Israelis to the public in recent weeks. He had no comment today but his office issued a brief statement saying that the Defense Minister still believed his position was the right one. Absorption Minister Natan Peled and Health Minister Victor Shemtov, both of Mapam, told reporters they were delighted with the decision. It was also welcomed by West Bank Arab leaders. Welfare Minister Michael Hazani of the National Religious Party said he was disappointed.
There was no announcement of any Cabinet decision on how to deal with the hundreds of Israelis who have reportedly made land deals with Arabs on the West Bank and other administered territories using irrevocable powers of attorney rather than normal sales contracts. Such activities are illegal and carry a penalty of up to five years in jail.
Under the present law, land purchases in the territories by Israelis require a license from the Military Governor. Under present policies, only Arabs or the Israel Lands Authority receive such licenses. Israeli Jews and foreign nationals are denied them, government sources said.
Cabinet and Foreign Ministry spokesmen refused to comment today on speculation that the Cabinet acted to ban land purchases after intervention by certain Western governments. Some observers here believe there probably was contact on the matter with the U.S. Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Yosef Tekoah, met with Secretary General Kurt Waldheim at the latter’s request today. It is not known whether the land matter was raised but Cabinet ministers knew of the meeting beforehand.
The matter of Israeli land purchases in the territories was the cause of a deepening split within the Labor Party. Dayan’s position has been that Israelis should be permitted to buy land any where in the “homeland.” But Foreign Minister Abba Eban cautioned last week that such a policy could get Israel involved in political and even military entanglements it did not want. Eban was apparently referring to the fact that any government is duty bound to protect its citizens’ property. The future of the administered territories has not been decided.
The Mayor of Nablus. Sheikh Maazu el Masri said today that the Cabinet decision was right one. “We are under military occupation and such a situation forbids any change in the status quo,” he said. Sheikh Mohammed Ali el Jaabari, the Mayor of Hebron expressed similar sentiments. He thanked the government for upholding the policy that only Arabs may buy land in the territories.