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Illegal Settlers in Sebastia Since Sunday Encouraged by Peres’ Views

December 5, 1975
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The illegal settlers of the Gush Emunim movement who descended on Sebastia in central Samaria Sunday have ap- parently won at least a temporary victory for their claim that Jews have the right to settle in any part of the West Bank. They have been there five days now and have set up a tent city with a makeshift synagogue, yeshiva and medical clinic. Although army units remain on the scene, they have made no attempts to remove the squatters by force or persuasion and have allowed food and medical supplies, additional tents and fuel to reach the group.

The would-be settlers received words of encouragement if not outright support from a ranking member of the government whose policies they have defied. Defense Minister Shimon Peres told the Knesset that he knows of no principle that prevented the right of Jews to settle in the Judaea and Samaria regions.

“The truth is that the controversy is not over a principle but rather a policy, not on the vision but rather on the timing, not on an area but rather on a specific place, not on volunteering but rather on law,” Peres said. His remarks were enthusiastically received by the “hawks” and religious MKs who ardently support the militantly Orthodox Gush Emunim who contend that the West Bank belongs to Israel by divine right.

But Peres’ remarks angered other MKs who submitted six agenda motions demanding that the government explain why it is permitting the squatters to violate state law by setting up camp in a restricted military area without official permission, While Israel does not rule out Jewish settlements in the administered areas, the law requires that each settlement project must have prior Cabinet approval.

APPARENT SOFTENING OF POLICY

The apparent softening of the government’s policy toward the Gush Emunim was obviously dictated by recent developments at the United Nations favoring the Palestine Liberation Organization and especially the Nov. 10 resolution by the General Assembly identifying Zionism as a racist movement.

Peres said as much when he reminded the Knesset that the government’s guidelines specifically mentioned continued settlement “according to Cabinet decision.” A decision adopted by the Ministerial Settlements Committee Tuesday authorized four new settlements on the Golan Heights.

“This,” said Peres, “is the Zionist and Israeli answer to the recent UN resolutions. It answers the need for the continuation of settlement efforts on both sides of the ‘Green Line.'” The “Green Line” is the popular designation of the boundary between Israel proper and the Arab territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

At the moment there are about 500 squatters at Sebastia, far fewer than the 1500 and more who trekked there on foot Sunday and Monday. Many left voluntarily because of the cold weather and continuous rain. Whether the group will be allowed to remain and establish a settlement on the site was a moot question today.

The bitter mood in Israel over the attacks on Zionism seems to preclude any attempt to remove them by force for the time being. But eventually, the question of Jewish settlement on land that may figure in future peace negotiations with the Arabs, will have to be tackled by the government. There are elements in Israel which contend that the establishment of settlements in the administered territories will not increase Israel’s security but rather will create hostages in an ultimate settlement.

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