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Cabinet Divided over How to Deal with Settlers of Yamit

January 4, 1982
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The Cabinet, sharply divided over how to deal with recalcitrant settlers in Yamit and ideologically motivated squatters who believe the government has no intention of evacuating Sinai next April, turned the problem over to the Ministerial Defense Committee today.

That move appeared to confirm the deadlock and placed the burden of resolving the matter squarely on Premier Menachem Begin who normally chairs the committee. Begin, who is making a slow recovery from his recent hip injury, was not present at today’s session. He has said little publicly on the Yamit problem though he assured Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week that Israel would honor the letter of its commitments under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

The immediate issue is whether to crack down on the Yamit settlers — most of whom are simply seeking better compensation from the government for relocation — and the ideologues, chiefly Gush Emunium militants from the occupied territories who have taken over abandoned homes and farms in northern Sinai. They are reportedly digging fortifications and accumulating arms for a confrontation with any forces sent to evacuate them.


One bloc of ministers, the most outspoken of whom is Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy, is demanding immediate tough action to restore law and order in northern Sinai and accuses Defense Minister Ariel Sharon of responsibility for the situation. Levy has warned that unless the armed forces act now, there will be bloodshed when the time for evacuation comes.

Levy is supported by Communications Minister Mordechai Zipori, Justice Minister Moshe Nissim, Transport Minister Haim Corfu, Tourism Minister Avraham Sharir, Energy Minister Yitzhak Berman, and Minister-Without Portfolio Yitzhak Modai.

Sharon heads a group that would take a soft line toward the settlers and squatters. It includes Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Simcha Ehrlich, Commerce Minister Gideon Patt, Health Minister Eliezer Shostak, Economic Coordinator Yaacov Meridor, and the two National Religious Party ministers, Yosef Burg and Zevulun Hammer. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Finance Minister Yoram Aridor have taken no clear position and are believed to be waiting to see what course Begin will favor.

Sharon, normally the leading hawk in the Cabinet, insists on delaying any action against the squatters because, he has said, he “understands the feelings of the nationalists.” He denied they were collecting arms for a confrontation, remarking, according to Kol Israel Radio: “My mother has a pistol too but she has no intention to use it.”


But Levy, in a radio interview over the weekend, blasted his Cabinet colleagues and Sharon in particular, for their inaction. “The squatters must be removed now and not on March 31, and by force if necessary. There is no other way,” he declared. Levy said the government should abandon the notion that by not acting firmly it is preventing internecine strife.

“It makes the squatters feel that force will not be used against them,” he said, and it encourages many citizens to believe that they can act violently to halt the peace process with Egypt because the government does not intend to fulfill the peace agreement anyway.

The Gush Emunim squatters say they have been receiving hints from senior government ministers that they should stay put on the likelihood that the Sinai withdrawal clause of the peace treaty will not be implemented. They refused to say which ministers dropped such hints. Sharon was quoted last week as saying that it would be to Israel’s advantage to keep the U.S. and Egypt guessing what Israel’s intentions are.

The peace treaty calls for Israel to be out of Sinai completely by next April 26. Homeowners, businessmen and merchants in Yamit reportedly have received formal notification from the government that they must leave their properties in good order by next March 31 or forfeit compensation. The squatters pose a different problem.

Raanan Weits, co-chairman of the Jewish Agency’s settlement department which is overseeing the technical aspects of relocation, complained over the weekend that the Yamit settlers and Gush Emunim squatters prevented Jewish Agency workers from moving greenhouses from Yamit to the resettlement area of Pithat Shalom in Israel. He said his requests for assistance from the army and police were ignored and similarly, his appeals to Begin and other ministers have not been answered.

In other developments over the weekend, Israel Radio reported that Israel troops lifted a two-day curfew on the Golan town of Majdal Shams, the largest Druze village. Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Rafael Eitan said the curfew and the search of homes of pro-Syrian residents were taken for unspecified security reasons. “We had to examine what exactly was happening there,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, tight security remained in effect in East Jerusalem where authorities restricted three Arab union leaders to the municipal area and confined them to their homes at night on “security grounds,” Israel Radio reported. In Bethlehem, Israeli explosives experts averted a tragedy when they dismantled a bomb which had been placed outside the Tomb of Rachel.

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