Israeli officials plan to establish five new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Israeli Radio and Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon disclosed yesterday.
The controversial plan - which some observers say could seriously raise tensions in the Middle East as the Sept. 5 summit meeting of Israeli, Egyptian and U.S. leaders nears - first became known here two weeks ago, but military censorship held up its publication until yesterday.
A Cabinet committee headed by Sharon approved the plan several days ago, Israeli Radio said. Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin said, however, that the plan has not yet come before the full Cabinet or major parliamentary committees, whose approval would be needed.
Cabinet secretary Aryeh Naor noted last night that the committee's decision to approve the plan came before the Camp David summit meeting had been scheduled. He said he expects the full Cabinet to consider the matter at its regular meeting next Sunday.
There were reports, nevertheless, that Sharon is going ahead with preparations for the settlements - three in the northern part of the Jordan Valley and two in the Jericho area.
Sharon, a hawkish member of Prime Minister Menachem Begin's Cabinet and the official responsible for settling occupied territories, has described the most recent plan as "the last chance to intensify Israeli settlement in this strategic area."
A senior source in the government's settlement program was quoted by United Press International as saying, "We have to do it now. Next year will be too late."
Israeli settlement of the occupied territories has been a serious irritant in relations between Israel and the United States, which considers such activities illegal. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat has pointed to such moves in the Sinai and West Bank as major obstacles to a negotiated peace.
[Initial Egyptian reaction to the Sharon plan was swift, though low-key, UPI reported.]
[If true, this is going to cast a big cloud on the Camp David summit," one government official in Cairo said. "Positions (of Egypt and Israel) are wide apart already and this is why President Carter called the summit. To build new settlements now would complicate matters further."]
Members of the Israel "Peace Now" movement, composed mainly of young people who oppose Begin's foreign policy, had defied censorship by sticking up posters on billboards and street corners giving details of the plan. Yesterday Sharon gave in and ended the censhorship.
The state-owned Israel Radio said Sharon outlined his plan several weeks ago to representatives of the five settlement movements and asked them to organize groups to establish the new communities. Although most of the people at the meeting belong to the opposition Labor Party, four of the five movements promised to cooperate.
The Labor-dominated goovernments that precedd the present government also advocated the establishment of settlements in the strategically vital but sparsely populated Jordan Valley. Twenty settlements have been established there since 1967, and some have become successfully agricultural enterprises.
The five new settlements that Sharon wants to put up actually were planned in principle by the previous government.
Even so, the Peace Now movement, the leftist Mapam movement and certain elements in the Labor Party say that under the present circumstances, with the Camp David talks only three weeks away, Israel should refrain from additional settlement efforts. Sharon, on the other hand, is convinced that before Israel makes a political commitment that might tie its hands, it must strengthen its security in the new settlements from the perspective of security rather than from a political point of view, Sharon demanded and obtained the help of the military censor in keeping the news from leaking to the press.