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Background Report the Sinai Withdrawal Issue

January 12, 1982
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

During a recent Cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon stunned his colleagues by saying that the Israel Defense Force had no available manpower to impose law and order in the Yamit region and by expressing the view that it is worth Israel’s while to foster the impression that the area remaining of Sinai to be returned to Egypt in April “is not yet in the Egyptians’ pockets.”

Sharon spoke as members of the “Stop the Withdrawal Movement” continued almost daily to increase their presence in Yamit and the Rafah region in northern Sinai, squatting with their wives and children in empty houses in the area, and as local residents staged violent demonstrations in support of claims for increased compensation payments.

(These claims were accepted by the Cabinet last Thursday when, by a vote of 5-4, a new compensation deal was pushed through providing the settlers 20 percent more than had previously been approved by the Cabinet. The compensation bill for the country will amount to 4.4 billion Shekels ($250,000,000). However, the Knesset Finance Committee, at a meeting today, protested this amount.)


Until the remarks by Sharon at the Cabinet, the ministers, along with most other Israelis, believed that Sharon’s reluctance to use troops against the Yamit squatters and demonstrators stemmed from tactical considerations.

The Defense Minister’s plan, it was understood was to have the showdown — if indeed there had to be a showdown — at the very last moment before the April 26 withdrawal deadline in a short, sharp military action to clear the area before the handover.

But Sharon’s comments at that Cabinet session inevitably heightened suspicions that he may harbor other motives in remaining passive in the face of the Yamit demonstrations and the ongoing organized tresspassing by the “Stop the Withdrawal” adherents.

In fact, ever since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination last October, the Israel government has spoken with a measure of ambivalence about the upcoming final Sinai withdrawal.


The official position continues to be that Israel will fulfill its commitments to Egypt under the peace treaty to the letter. But there have been statements from some leaders that created a different impression. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, addressing the conference of the Agudath Israel World Organization last month, spoke of having to “reconsider” the terms of the treaty if U.S. pressure for further Israeli concessions were maintained. Shamir focussed on the “very heavy price” that Israel is having to pay for the peace.

And Sharon has explained that the Israeli settlers must stay in the Yamit area until the last moment “because no one can predict what tomorrow will bring.”

These comments do not, of course, imply or even hint at second thoughts about the treaty commitments, but nevertheless they have been cited and repeated by anti-withdrawal (Gush Emunim) circles, and they do seem to nourish the flicker of hope in the hearts of these circles that somehow Israel will evade the need to evacuate the remainder of Sinai in April.

And there are acts and omissions by the government that seem to encourage this impression:

The government, for example, has not taken action against the Stop the Withdrawal squatters who are clearly in breach of the law. On the contrary, several government ministries — education, housing, and the Rafah local authority– continue supplying services to these squatters and their families.

Moreover the government did not act to suppress the violent demonstrations in Yamit over compensation, even when the demonstrators repeatedly set fire to government-owned property in the town.

In addition, despite a Cabinet decision from last summer to physically dismantle the houses in the Rafah area and transport them by trailer to the new sites inside the Green Line, nothing has been done in this regard.

(In a Cabinet session in August — the only time the Cabinet has discussed the impending withdrawal to date — Premier Menachem Begin said he had promised Sadat to restore Sharm El-Sheikh with all the hotels and tourist facilities there intact. In Yamit and Rafah, however, Israel should take away whatever possible, Begin said.)


Apart from the August Cabinet discussion (held following Begin’s last summit with Sadat), only a small group of ministers has addressed itself to the withdrawal issue — and contradictory decisions have emerged.

At first Begin seemed inclined to endorse the hard line promulgated by the Justice Minister and the Attorney General against the Rafah squatters. These two wanted the government to act at once. But subsequently, the Premier agreed with Sharon who counselled ignoring the squatters on the grounds that if they are ousted now, they will manage to return before April and will have to be ousted again.

At one Cabinet session Sharon suggested installing two IDF soldiers in every empty house in the Rafah-Yamit region, to ensure they stay empty. But later he said he could not afford the manpower since the army was preoccupied in the north.

This sort of vacillating has further contributed to suspicions — they may well be just wishful thinking on the part of anti-withdrawal hardliners — that there is yet hope even in the government to avoid the final pullback.

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