West Bank Land Fraud Shakes Political Leadership
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Likud bloc leaders today hinted that the arrests of two Likud activists on land fraud charges may have been instigated by the right-wing alliance’s partner in the governing coalition, the Labor Party.
However, Police Minister Haim Bar-Lev, a close associate of Prime Minister Shimon Peres and a leader in Peres’ Labor Party, denied the suggestion.
″These Likud Knesset (Parliament) members don’t know what they’re talking about. There is no political intervention into police work, not in this case, not in any other case,″ he said.
Police on Thursday charged two Likud activists with taking bribes in a case involving the unauthorized sale of property in the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who heads the right-wing Likud, was quoted today in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper as saying of the arrests: ″It appears to me that there is some sort of excessive zeal here, and I think the zeal is dictated by political reasons.″
The case comes at a time of growing tension between the rival factions in Peres’ ruling coalition, which narrowly survived a political crisis last month resulting from a dispute between Peres and Likud’s Ariel Sharon, minister of trade and industry.
Ronni Milo, a leading Likud member who is also deputy foreign minister, said on Israel television Thursday night that the case ″smacks more than little of political considerations.″
″I will feel a bit better about this when I hear that the police are as busy in scandals involving very high-ranking Labor personalities,″ Milo said.
Bar-Lev, however, said the decision to probe land acquisition in the West Bank was made under the previous government headed by Shamir.
Charged with accepting bribes were Avi Tsur and Claude Malka, aides to senior Likud member Michael Dekel, who was deputy minister of agriculture when the alleged fraud took place from 1981 to 1984.
Dekel, who was appointed deputy defense minister on Thursday, was not charged in the case and said he would gladly cooperate with investigators.
Tsur and Malka were charged with taking bribes from Avraham Gindi, a prominent developer. Gindi has been charged with defrauding hundreds of Jews to whom he sold plots allegedly obtained illegally from Palestinian landowners.
About 800,000 Palestinians live on the West Bank. There are also 52,000 Jews living in government-approved settlements.
Police suspect some of the money allegedly paid out as bribes was channeled into the Likud coffers, the liberal daily Haaretz newspaper reported.
But Haaretz quoted Tsur as saying in his defense in Tel Aviv’s magistrate court Thursday that the funds he received were legitimate campaign contributions to the Likud bloc.
The English-language Jerusalem Post reported that Tsur also is suspected of writing a letter wrongly certifying that the land had been approved for Jewish residential development in the West Bank.
The letter was given to Gindi and used to convince Israelis that the government had approved the land for homebuilding, the Post said.
Tsur, Malka and Gindi were ordered held in police custody pending further investigation.
A special police unit is investigating accusations that Israelis forged the signatures of Palestinian landowners on fraudulent bills of sale or forced Palestinians to sell. Police have not pressed charges on this aspect of the case.