The Israeli government, in a new sign of its unwillingness to halt Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, is preparing an expensive advertising and promotion campaign to encourage its citizens to move to the expanding development towns in the occupied territory.
The campaign, which will feature radio, television and newspaper advertisements and what will amount to a government-run house and apartment locator service for the West Bank, is being directed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Avraham Hoffmann, the spokesman for the ministry, estimated the initial budget for the promotion activities at about $150,000.
The decision to launch the campaign comes at a time of intense international interest in the settlements issue.
President Reagan's Middle East peace initiative includes a call for a settlement freeze, and Jordan's King Hussein, nearing a decision on whether to join direct negotiations over the future of the West Bank, strongly supports such a freeze. The subject is expected to be raised anew next month when Prime Minister Menachem Begin is scheduled to meet with Reagan in Washington.
Begin and other Israeli leaders, however, have rejected both the Reagan plan and the calls for a freeze, and backed up their public pronouncements by stepping up settlement activity.
The public campaign promoting the advantages of living in Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the West Bank, is their latest tactic in seeking to accelerate Jewish settlement in the occupied territory and to make it impossible for any future Israeli government to return the area to Palestinian Arabs as part of a peace settlement.
According to government officials, the initial target of the publicity campaign will be to attract Jewish settlers to 2,200 housing units that are soon to become available in the West Bank. These homes and apartments are concentrated in the development towns of Ariel and Emmanuel, both planned as suburbs of Tel Aviv, and in Qiryat Arba, a settlement established by the militantly nationalistic Gush Emunim movement just east of Hebron.
Zohar Gindel, the official in charge of the promotion effort, was quoted as saying he expects 10,000 to 20,000 inquiries from Israelis as a result of the campaign. After the 2,200 units are filled, he said the government will help organize other groups of Israelis to begin planning to move to West Bank development towns that are still being planned.
In addition to urging Israelis to move to the West Bank, Hoffmann said the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs will act as a central clearinghouse for information on what is available in the occupied territory's development towns.
"When people come to us, they will receive exact information," he said. "If they have children, they will want to know if a kindergarten is available. They will also want to know about work and the value of the housing." Hoffmann said that by acting as a central information service, the government expects to make it easier for Israelis to find suitable housing in the scattered development towns and other Jewish settlements of the West Bank.
An estimated 25,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank. The World Zionist Organization, which is in charge of drafting settlement plans for the government, has set a goal of putting 100,000 Jews in the occupied territory by the middle of this decade.
Critics of the Begin government's policies have warned that this number of Israelis, even within a population of 800,000 Arabs, will make a political settlement involving the return of large areas of the West Bank to Arab control virtually impossible.
The Zionist organization and government officials say they are confident of reaching the 100,000 goal, perhaps as early as 1984. Hoffmann said the publicity campaign is not being launched to overcome any lack of interest among Israelis in living in the territory but to make those who are interested in moving aware of what is available there.
However, a report today in the independent newspaper Maariv questioned whether the 100,000 goal will be reached even by 1987. The report said most of the settlement activity is concentrated in towns within commuting distance of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and that the government has been far less successful in attracting settlers to the more isolated communities in the territory.