Prospects for a peaceful evacuation of Israeli settlers from the northern Sinai Peninsula appeared to have dimmed today with the dissolution of the negotiating committees of the government and settlers after they failed to reach agreement on property compensation to be paid when Israel completes its scheduled withdrawal on April 25.
Militant leaders of the Mediterranean resort town of Yamit, announcing the breakup of their negotiating committee, predicted a "national catastrophe" if the government attempts to remove them by force.
Yosi Sela, chairman of the Yamit Action Committee, warned in a news conference that "we will use all our force and not only with our hands. We will stay until April 26 and then there will be a tragedy." He did not elaborate on what kind of force the settlers might use but some Yamit residents have talked about an armed confrontation with the Army.
The government said its offer of $270 million compensation--ranging from $132,000 to $437,500 per family--was final and that no further negotiations will be held.
"We will no longer negotiate. We have finished," Amikan Shapira, an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Simcha Ehrlich, said in a news conference called to rebut the settlers' accusations of government "double- dealing" in the negotiations.
Complicating the dispute is a growing controversy within Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government over whether the compensation offer is excessive and what effect it will have on the strained national budget. In a stormy meeting today of the parliament's finance committee, most members taking part reportedly criticized the offer, saying it would ruin the budget and increase inflation.
Several parliamentary members of Begin's Likud coalition said they will vote against the offer, with Yigael Cohen saying that it "established a new norm on land and water speculation." The Labor Party's Ronnie Milo proposed a law specifying that settlers who do not evacuate by a set date will lose compensation rights. The Yamit settlers were described by some members of parliament as "blackmailers" and "feudalistic parasites."
The settlers claimed today that the 600 families living on farming settlements near Yamit had signed compensation agreements for up to $500,000 each and that the government, to hold the total to $270 million, has been trying to "cheat" Yamit residents, who began negotiations after the farmers.
Avi Yigael, a spokesman for the dissident settlers in Yamit, said, "We think the government cheated us. They gave us numbers, but they gave the people of Israel the idea we are trying to become billionaires." He said Ehrlich had actually reduced the government compensation offer to the Yamit residents by 20 percent in order to pay off the farmers.
While the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty froze the population of Yamit at about 500 families, about 300 ultranationalist squatters have moved into the town to oppose its evacuation.
Begin has repeatedly told Egypt that Israel will complete its withdrawal on schedule, most recently in a letter two weeks ago to President Hosni Mubarak. The government has sent eviction notices to the Sinai settlers, telling them to leave by March 31.
Government sources said today that the standoff still could be resolved, possibly by an agreement under which the settlers would receive higher compensation but with up to one-fourth of it in long-term government bonds.
One official said he believed that the settlers were as much concerned about their image and the negative press commentary over the compensation negotiations as they are about the amount itself, and that they will eventually settle with the government.
United Press International reported the following from Jerusalem:
President Reagan, in a message sent to Begin on Monday, said differences of opinion between the United States and Israel are over, Israel's state-run radio reported.
U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis delivered the message on his return from consultations in Washington. The radio report said the "very friendly" message asserted the differences were "a thing of the past" and that Reagan referred to an "unshakeable American commitment" to Israel.
An aide said Begin would respond to Reagan's message after Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s visit to Jerusalem Thursday and Friday.
Lewis said the "primary focus" of Haig's meetings with Begin would be the peace process and the two-year-old talks with Egypt and the United States on self-rule for 1.2 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In Egypt, diplomatic sources said President Hosni Mubarak's government is not keen on a speedy appointment of a new U.S. special envoy to the autonomy talks but will go along if the United States insists.
Begin also consulted with senior officials charged with preparing a statement outlining Israel's proposals during the negotiations.