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Accord with Gush Opens Hornets’ Nest

September 30, 1977
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Premier Menachem Begin’s sudden decision yesterday to allow Gush Emunim settlers to establish themselves temporarily at six unused army camps on the West Bank–ostensibly as mobilized army reservists accompanied by wives and children–emerged today as a hasty improvision that has raised complex domestic questions and could have serious foreign policy repercussions.

The Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) is already gathering signatures for a special session of the Knesset to debate what it calls a shameful politicization of the army. The Labor Alignment is considering joining the DMC’s initiative.

Begin’s plan was obviously an attempt to appease his ultra-nationalist, Orthodox constituency after troops prevented several Gush groups from establishing settlements in the Judaea and Samaria regions yesterday in defiance of the government. The pseudo-military encampments are supposed to remain only until the end of the year after which–as the Gush seems to understand it–a large-scale program for Jewish settlements on the West Bank will begin.

But the project has brought Begin under severe criticism as did his pardon earlier this month of convicted embezzler Yehoshua Benzion, a Likud supporter. It obviously was not given much forethought for the army was not informed and no instructions have been issued on how to treat the “reservists” and their families.


Among the questions raised are who will pay them, what will they do at the military camps and are there adequate facilities for women and young children at the camps? Although the settlers have been called up for indefinite reserve duty, their status is unclear as far as the Army Paymaster General is concerned. If they are to be regarded as employees of the Defense Ministry, the Ministry has not been informed so far.

Jokes are making the rounds: will the Army Supply Corps have to issue khaki diapers and armored plate body utensils? But there are more serious considerations. Begin reportedly seized on the plan because the occupation of territory by military personnel is admissible under international law and the various international conventions. But it is not expected to fool anyone.

Maariv, a newspaper that frequently supports Begin, said today: “It is not clear whom the agreement between the Gush and the Premier intends to cheat. If it is the Americans, it must be clear that they will understand only too well who is hiding beneath the uniforms with which the Gush will try to camouflage its settlements. Or is it the UN, the opposition in the Knesset or President Carter? It is very doubtful that these people would think that settlements by uniformed people are less real than those established by people in working clothes.”

Likud, girding for a possible battle in the Knesset, is expected to take the line that the Nahal, para-military agricultural settlements, were used by previous governments to further political aspirations of settlers and there is no reason why the present government should not act in the same way. Meanwhile, the would-be settlers spent the night at four existing West Bank settlements–Ofra, Maaleh Edumim, Alon Moreh (Kadum) and Pe’erim.

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