In the face of an Egyptian request to declare a moratorium on new settlements in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli government today approved plans to build two new Jewish cilvilian outposts in the Judean hills just south of the predominantly Arab city of Hebron and a third north of the Arab city of Nablus.
The joint government-World Zionist Organization committee on settlements said the new outposts, initially designed for about 100 families each, will be part of the maximum of 10 additional settlements that Prime Minister Menachem Begin has said will be built in the West Bank.
There are about 65 settlements in the West Bank, 13 of them built or given legal status since the 1978 Camp David peace accords.
The extragovernmental World Zionist Organization first proposed the two new Hebron outposts, to be called Zif and Maon Carmel, in its 1978 master plan of some 70 porspective settlements. The outpost north of Nablus is to be added to the Reinhan bloc of three existing settlements.
The joint committee also gave approval to building a new outpost just inside Israel proper, north of Beersheba, to be called Yatir B.
So far, the government has approved, started or completed work on about 20 of the outposts in the master plan, mostly in densely populated areas of the West Bank's highland range, which was virtually immune from settlement until Begin came to power in 1977.
The new outposts, coupled with the Israeli parliament's move to perpetuate Israel's control over all Jerusalem, are likely to further strain Egyptian-Israeli relations at a time when the future of the suspended negotiations on Palestinian autonomy are in doubt.
In his letter last week to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Begin said, settlements "are legal and legitimate and they are an integral part of our national security. None of them will ever be removed."
Zif and Maon Carmel would be part of the Yatir bloc one of the four clusters of settlements that ring Hebron, the West Bank's largest city. The others are the Etzion bloc to the north, the West Mount Hebron bloc to the west, and a small cluster in the Judean Desert to the east.
There are already 12 settlements in the clusters, plus the sprawling, highrise urban complex of Kiryat Arba on the outskirts of Hebron. Twelve more Zionist Organization in the four clusters, but some would have to be scrapped if Begin adheres to his pledge to limit the number of new outposts to 10 throughout the West Bank.
While there are 70 propective settlement sites in the master plan drafted by the organization's settlement chief, Mattyahu Drobles, the plan is not definitive. It requires settlement-by-settlement government endorsement. However, all outposts started or approved since the Camp David treaty were in Drobles' blueprint.
An obstacle facing the government is financing. Yigael Hurvitz, the finance minister, has said that there is no provision in the current budget for new settlements, although $25 million has been earmarked for the expansion of existing outposts. Presumably, funds for the settlements approved today could be diverted from that fund, or drawn from elsewhere.