The Israeli government said today it will look for an alternative site for the illegal Elon Moreh settlement near Nablus in the West Bank and that it will not consider proposing legislation to circumvent a court order to dismantle the Jewish outpost within 30 days.
Although the Cabinet put off until Thursday a debate on the future of Elon Moreh, Cabinet Secretary Aryeh Naor said the government in the meantime would seek a "proper and legal place" to which to transfer the few dozen settlers involved.
"Nobody can even think about the possibility of doing anything against such a verdict of our own court. Nobody suggested it. Nobody proposed it," Naor said. He referred to last Monday's ruling by the High Court of Justice, Israel's highest court.
In an unprecedented decision, the court ruled that private Arab land for Elon Moreh had been expropriated by the government for political reasons and not for compelling security needs. It said the settlement, therefore, is illegal.
Gush Emunim, the ultranationalist settlement movement, had urged, with the tacit backing of Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, that the government present legislation to Israel's parliament authorizing the seizure of private Arab land for settlements on the basis of "nationalistic" reasons instead of for security.
In a statement today, Gush Emunim said that moving Elon Moreh to an alternative site would be dodging the larger issue of Israel's right to settle anywhere in the occupied West Bank and would amount to an admission that all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are illegal.
Gush Emunim said it wants a law passed declaring that Israel is not an occupying power and is not subject to the provisions of the Hauge Convention governing actions by a conquering nation in occupied areas.
Bennie Katsover, the group's secretary, said the Gush Emunim was preparing affidavits to present to the High Court declaring that about 20 of its settlements were motivated by political, not security, considerations, thereby forcing the court to apply to all of them international law restricting land expropriation to military purposes.
Although Naor or Cabinet ministers did not metion today any possible transfer sties for Elon Moreh, Sharon has suggested that the settlers move into Camp Horon, an Army camp at the base of the Elon Moreh hill, while the Army troops move to the hilltop after legally seizing the land for military purposes.
However, Gush Emunim has said it does not want to move to Camp Horon, and Elon Moreh settlers have dug into their encampment, vowing to forcibly resist attempts to evict them.
It was understood that Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin and Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir all are opposed to the idea of not returning the Elon Moreh land to its Arab owners.
Cabinet sources said that Sharon and Education Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party plan to demand at Thursday's special Cabinet meeting that the government accept an ambitious settlement program that will offset Gush Emunim criticism of the dismantlement of Elon Moreh.
Sharon, sources said, plans to submit a plan to spend $1.5 million in the next year to develop at least 20 new West Bank settlements, with an ulitmate goal of housing 100,000 Jewish settlers in the territory.
Since Thursday's Cabinet session is being billed as a comprehensive review of the Israeli government's settlement policies, Sharon's plan is viewed here as a trade-off for government acquiescence to the High Court decree.
Meanwhile, Begin's aids reacted sharpley to a suggestion by former foreign minister Moshe Dayan that the Likud coalition majority wants to annex the West Bank ultimately and that this goal is affecting the conduct of the negotiations on West Bank-Gaza Palestinian autonomy.
In a Voice of Israel radio interview, Dayan said he "couldn't be a mouthpiece for that conception."
Noar today said, "Mr. Dayan is mistaken. No discussion has been taken in the Cabinet to annex the territories to Israel, neither today nor tomorrow. All the government decided was that after five years with the establishment of the autonomy, when we shall be in a discussion of the final legal status of the territories, we shall suggest that Israeli sovereignty be put on those territories." That policy, Naor said, was approved five months ago.