The Israeli government today again put off the court-ordered dismantling of the controversial Elon Moreh settlement, which has become a symbol in the political struggle over Jewish civilian settlement in the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River.
The Cabinet, after a three-hour debate, voted to delay evacuating the outpost near the Arab town of Nablus for another five weeks while work continues on an alternate site several miles away.
Officials said the settlers' indecision whether to accept the alternate site had delayed the start of construction of the new outpost, and that recent heavy rains had slowed excavating and roadbuilding.
However, critics of the government's settlement policy accused Prime Minister Menachem Begin of capitulating to the Elon Moreh settlers because he is afraid that a forcible eviction would topple his government.
Israel's High Court ruled on Oct. 22 that the government had illegally expropriated privately owned Arab land for Elon Moreh, and ordered it dismantled within a month. As that deadline neared, Begin, with the Cabinet's approval, issued a six-week extension, saying that negotiations were still underway to evacuate the settlers peacefully and move them to nearby Jebel Kabir.
When the present Elon Moreh was established on June 7, the nucleus of 15 families was installed in 12 hours in an army-assisted helicopter operation that airlifted tents, generators, water tanks and other equipment.
However, it was several weeks before facilities and roadwork for the new outpost were completed and the approximately 20 mobile homes were trucked to the rocky hilltop.
Cabinet sources said today that Begin received a memorandum from Haim Druckman, National Religious Party member of the Knesset (parliament) saying that the ultranationalist settlement movement, Gush Emmunim (Faith Bloc), has agreed to the new Jebel Kabir site. The move would not entail the expropriation of Arab-owned land, although it is in occupied territory.
However, the sources stressed that Druckman's pledge was in the name of the Gush Emunim Secretariat only, and does not reflect the veiws of the Elon Moreh settlers.
The settlers have said they will leave their site near the Arab village of Rujeib if the government formally declares a change in its view of the legal status of the West Bank, meaning an assertion that Israel does not consider the West Bank an occupied territory and, therefore, Hague Convention prohibitions against seizing private land for civilian settlements are not applicable.
Such a declaration would be tantamount to annexing the West Bank and would appear to contravene the Camp David peace accords, which explicitly prohibit Israel from changing the territory's legal status without the consent of the other parties.
The Cabinet was understood to have rejected a proposal that Army helicopters airlift prefabricated dwellings to the Jebel Kabir site so that at least some of the Elon Moreh settleers could move in before the Jan. 3 deadline. Sources said the settlers' refusal to move without their conditions being met, coupled with the inaccessibility of Jebel Kabir until a road is built, figured in the Cabinet decision. Also, the Cabinet was said to have received a legal opinion that it would not be in contempt of court by postponing the deadline.
However, Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir reportedly told the Cabinet there is no legal justification for the postponement and that Arab landowners could return to court and create new problems for the government.
The opposition Labor Party, nevertheless, attacked the postponement, declaring in a statement, "This is further grave damage to public respect of the courts of the country."
Meir Talmi, leader of the Mopam faction of the Labor alignment, accused Begin of avoiding a showdown because he fears the use of Army troops to evict the settlers would create a crisis that would topple the government. Amnom Rubenstein of the Shai Party said the government "has no limit for self-abuse."
The three Democratic Movement ministers -- Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, Justice Minister Samuel Tamir and Labor Minister Israel Katz -- voted against the postponement.
In another development, Foreign Ministry sources said that Israel is sending the Egyptian government a list of treaties and international agreements Egypt has with other countries that contain exclusionary clauses directed at Israel. With the list, said to include about 200 agreements, is a request that Egypt drop the exclusionary clauses to comply with a Camp David treaty provision prohibiting "hostile propaganda."
Israel did not include in the list mutual defense pacts Egypt has with Arab League nations because, officials said, the Camp David accord is supposed to supersede defense pacts either side may have with other countries.