Baker Statements Raise Storm of Protest in Israel With PM-US-Israel
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli leaders today sharply criticized the idea of linking U.S. aid for housing of Soviet Jewish immigrants to assurances that no new settlements will be built in the occupied territories.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of the right-wing Likud bloc said the Bush administration should ″reconsider this position,″ brought up Thursday in Washington by Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
In a rare show of unity, his rival, Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, agreed. Peres added, ″We cannot forbid (an immigrant) to settle wherever he wants, but basically we do not intend to build new settlements″ in the occupied lands.
At a hearing before the House Appropriations foreign aid subcommittee, Baker said the Bush administration could endorse giving Israel $400 million in loan guarantees to build housing for Soviet Jews, but only if Israel promises not to put any new settlers in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
Israel maintains it has no policy of settling Jewish immigrants in the occupied territories and says that of 12,000 Soviet Jews who came to Israel last year, only 200 have settled in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
″We do not accept this American position, and we intend holding a thorough discussion with the U.S. administration,″ Shamir said in a statement.
″The linkage of the issue of immigration and the problem of settlements was completely unnecessary,″ he said.
Stronger statements came from right-wing legislators and settlement leaders. Some even proposed increasing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to underscore Israel’s displeasure.
Likud legislator Benjamin Begin, son of former Premier Menachem Begin, said it was ″inconceivable that Jews would be barred from living anywhere in their historical homeland.″
Avner Shaki, a Parliament member from the National Religious Party, said Baker’s remarks amounted to ″an unprecedented intervention in Israel’s internal affairs.″ And Rafael Eitan, head of the right-wing Tsomet Party, urged expanding the settlements.
Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 Middle East war. About 70,000 Jews live there along with 1.7 million Palestinians who are campaigning for an independent state. Hundreds of Palestinians and about 40 Jews have been killed during the 27-month-old Palestinian uprising in the occupied lands.
The United States considers further Jewish settlements obstacles to peace.
In a sign of the contentiousness of the issue, publication of monthly Soviet immigration figures will now be subject to review by the military censor.
An announcement from the censor’s office said today that ″all material pertaining to immigration of Soviet Jews must be submitted to the censor prior to publication.″ The censors are not expected to release the data, so the screening process is expected to amount to a ban.
The daily newspaper Maariv said the decision followed this week’s estimate that up to 230,000 Soviet Jews will come to Israel this year, as opposed to previous estimates of 80,000 to 100,000. The influx is due in part to relaxed emigration laws in the Soviet Union, and to concerns of anti-Semitism there.
Maariv said the newest estimate ″created panic in the Arab countries, and the protests coming from these countries endanger immigration.″
The issue over U.S. aid raised tempers at a time when Shamir is already under pressure both at home and in Washington to get U.S.-mediated peace talks started with Palestinians.
Shamir has rejected Baker’s suggestions that he compromise on the makeup of the Palestinian delegation and on the agenda for the Cairo talks.
He also is caught between the Labor Party, which wants acceptance of the Baker plan, and hard-liners in his own Likud bloc, who resist any compromise.
At an emergency meeting Thursday, some settlers demanded the government abandon the U.S.-mediated peace process to protest Baker’s position.
″We think the trip to Cairo (for preliminary talks) is like pregnancy,″ said settler activist Aaron Domb. ″Then there would be no choice but to give birth to this baby, the Palestinian state, and we want Israel not to become pregnant.″
Israel’s four top leaders were to meet Sunday on the issue, but it was unclear if a decision would be made at the meeting.