Although Prime Minister Menachem Begin says there is no credibility gap in his government's policy on Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, his ministers and his spokesmen continue to sow such confusion that there is growing doubt in Israel over just what the government policy is.
Consider the report Sunday on Isreal radio that Defense Minister Ezer Weizman had ordered a stop to the "expansion" of Israeli settlements in the Rafiah salient in northern Sinai. Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zippori, in a roundabout statement on television, appeared to deny that work on the settlements had stopped. Moshe Rivlin, chairman of the Jewish National Fund, said that work had stopped because the job had been completed.
Later in the evening, a Ministry of Defense spokesman confirmed that the original story was true.
"Rafiah Bulldozers Raise Cloud of Confusion - Even When Still," was the headline in this morning's Jerusalem Post.
The Rafiah salient is a thin strip of territory in the Sinai desert which Israel took from Egypt in the 1967 war. Israel wants to hand on to it because it divides the Sinai from the Gaza Strip and its 400,000 Palestinians and because of an important air base. There is the debate in Israel over whether the settlements are strategically important, but few doubt that the Rafiah salient itself is a strategically important piece of land.
Last month the government announced that it had decided not to build new settlements in the Rafiah salient, as Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon had wanted, but that it would expand existing settlements. This decisions was presented as a political compromise.
What mystified many observers was that some of the land being cleared was 20 to 50 miles west of any existing settlement, deep in the territory which Israel had said it was willing to return to Egyptian sovereignty.
Often signs were put up with the names of existing settlements far away to the east. Sheds were erected on some of the sites. What were these sites for? If they were expansions of the existing settlements why were they so far away?