Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said today that amid rising instability in the Middle East, the only thing Israel can rely on is its settlement of the occupied West Bank.

Sharon was speaking to about 300 settlers here at the opening of a new water distribution system that eventually will link all of the 85 Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The six wells that supply the system have a capacity of 375,000 gallons an hour, enough for about 100,000 to 150,000 persons, according to Naftale Yaniv, spokesman for the water authority. There are about 20,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, but Israel plans to raise the number to 300,000 in the next decade.

"With the daily tremors in the region likely to influence our destiny, the only thing that is certain and stable is the Jewish people settling in the Land of Israel," Sharon told the residents of Elon Moreh, a settlement near Nablus. His reference was to the biblical term that includes the occupied West Bank as part of Israel.

Sharon said he hoped settlement activity would increase in the years ahead, "thus assuring Israel's security more than any contracts the country might make."