Pressure began building on the Israeli government again today to resume construction of Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank. There were signs that Prince Minister Menachem Begin's Cabinet will decide on the new civilian outposts soon, amid delicate Middle East peace negotiations with Egypt.
Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan told a Tel Aviv symposium that Israel has plans to build 20 new settlements in the Jordan Valley region of the West Bank during the next four years, and that now is the time to announce "all over the world our intentions."
Israel's deputy defense minister, Mordechai Zipori, said meanwhile that sites for new settlements already are being prepared in the occupied territories. Roadbuilding and site clearing continued through a three month freeze on new settlement activity agreed to by Begin durign the Camp David summit conference, he added.
However, the problems of financing the settlements and populating them with a diminishing number of volunteers-coupled with the prospect of inevitable protests from Arabs and the U.s. government-could make it difficult for the Israeli government to carry out its ambitious plans.
The ultranationalist Gush Emunim, of Faith Bloc, today erected two makeshift settlements between Jerusalem and the Arab town of Ramallah until they were evicted by Israeli soldiers.
Gush Emunim leaders said they would continue to put illegal settlements all over the West Bank to test the government's stated resolve to strengthen existing civilian outposts and build new ones.
Sources said the government soon will announce plans to build three or four of the settlements planned for the sparsely populated Jordan Valley to build a rural settlement at Peera, north of Bethany, and to construct a permanent site for a controversial settlement at Shiloh, a flimsy trailer camp erected last year on the pretext of headquartering an "archeological dig."
All the new settlement decisions, coupled with reported plans by the israeli army to evacute Camp Kedom near Nablus and hand it over to civilian settlers there, appear certain to trigger Palestinian and other Arab protests and cloud the Egyptian Israeli peace negotiations when they are revived.
Various grandiose settlement plans have been leaked recently by factions of the government, apparently to appease hard-line critics of proposed Palestinian self-rule. The government this time, however, is said to be on the verge of making firm commitments to new West Bank development.
For example, the ministrerial settlement committee is said to have already dusted off an old Labor government plan to build the Peera settlement, to be name Ein Shemesh, about nine mile outside Jerusalem.
Bulldozers already had begun moving earth in the Maaleh Adumim area, near Bethany on the road to Jericho, but the ministerial unit decided last week that the site will become a suburb of Jerusalem, and that a new rural outpost, Ein Shemesh, is needed slightly to the north.
If the new site becomes the object of controversy, the government can always claim that it is merely a "thickening" of the Maaleh Adumim project.
There is still an unresolved dispute between Israel and the U.S. State Department over the length of the freeze on new outposts. The U.S. interpretation is that it applies over the full five years of the autonomy plan, but the Israeli view is that it applies only the three months set as a goal for signing a treaty. The three months ended Dec. 17.
While there has been much talk about new settlements by Israeli officials, finding funds to build them and families to occupy them have been another matter.
The government, already caught in a budget squeeze and facing spiraling wage demands and nearly 100 percent annual inflation, has yet to make a major financila commitment for building, although the Jewish Agency is said to have recently received $3.5 million for upgrading 15 existing West Bank settlements.
But the agency's settlement division has had difficulty finding volunteers to live in the settlements. They often consist of little more than remote, bleak, muddy clusters of tiny prefabricated bungalows or house trailers set on blocks. There are 300 vacancies reported in the established, relatively comfortable Kiryat Arba project near Hebron.
The coordinator of the Kibbutz Hemeuhad movements's settlement department, Yitzhak Hulati, recently reported that the number of volunteers to settle in the Jorday Valley has declined sharply since the signing of the Camp David accords. In interviews, settlers often say they do not look forward to living among hostile arabs if the West Bank is given autonomy and the Israeli army reduces its presence.
The movement tried to lure city dwellers by publishing newspaper advertisements, but only 10 responded in a month. Unually, only one in four volunteers is found suitable for settlement life.
Defense Minisstry officials also confirmed today that an Israeli road building program is under way on the West Bank, including a new road along the Samarian hills overlooking the Jordan Valley. There was no explicit mention of such work in the West Bank during the freeze in the Camp David agreements.
The Gush Emunim settlements erected today at Nebbi Samwill and Tel Hadashar, northwest of Jerusalem, consisted of tents, a kitchen made of corrugated steel, beds and tables and surrounded by barbed wire.
The Israeli army sealed off the area with roadblocks and about 50 soldiers evicted the squatters, who were taken to police stations for questioning.
Government sources said Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, after meeting with Begin, order the eviction. A spokesman for Gush Emunim claimed the land is Jewish-owned, adding, "We have a right for the government to give it to us. It is not coming to an end until all Israel understands the truth."
Meanwhile, 19 memebers of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, introduced a bill that would assure Israeli control over the West Bank's "state-owned" lands even following Palestinian autonomy, plus israeli control over water rights and guarantees that Jewish settlers would be governed by Israeli and not Arab law.