NEW YORK (Oct. 10)
Israeli Premier Shimon Peres called on American Jewry Wednesday to help Israel recover from its economic crisis and to maintain its strength.
Addressing about 100 Jewish leaders at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the Hotel Pierre, Peres said that American Jews should join Israel and the United States as “the third partner” in the plan to restructure Israel’s economy and create a new, modern economic infrastructure.
Peres arrived in New York Wednesday morning after two days of talks with President Reagan and other Administration officials in Washington. He said Israel’s goal of economic recovery was discussed in those talks. “I told the Americans that we would like to restore our economy by transforming it into a hi-tech, science-based economy. We want to restructure our economy, ” he said.
Peres said that the first move in that direction was the creation of a joint economic development group of experts from Israel and the U.S. to help implement the programs aimed at establishing a new economic infrastructure. He said the group would hold its first meeting in the new few weeks but mentioned no date.
BASIS FOR ISRAEL’S NEEDS
Peres, appearing before the Presidents Conference for the first time as Prime Minister of Israel, was given a standing ovation. Reporting on his talks in Washington he said that Israel does not seek American aid in order to maintain or improve the living standards of its people. Israel needs the aid, he said, to maintain its military strength and its defense capabilities.
He noted that the U.S. spends about $130 billion a year for the defense of Europe and about $40 billion for the defense of southeast Asia. The U.S. also keeps troops in Europe, Peres said, stressing that Israel has never asked for American soldiers.
He said Israel pays for about 70 percent of its defense needs from its own resources, the rest coming from American aid. Israel will continue to do so in defense of itself and the interests of the free world and of democracy in the Middle East, he said.
Peres explained that Israel is seeking an increase in American aid because the cost of military equipment has increased ten-fold over the last 10 years while the amount of American aid has remained the same. He noted that in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War, when American aid started to flow to Israel, the Jewish State received $2.6 billion, the same amount it is getting today.
ENCOURAGING RESPONSE FROM THE U.S.
In 1974, Peres continued, Israel purchased U.S. Phantom jets for $4 million apiece. Today it must pay $40 million apiece for F-15s and F-16s. “This is the real problem we discussed” in Washington, he said, adding that the response from the Administration “was very encouraging.”
Peres said that while he was urged in Washington to cut more from Israel’s budget, Israel was not asked to reduce its outlays for defense. “Nobody suggested that Israel weaken itself (militarily) for the purpose of economic strength,” Peres declared.
He told the Presidents Conference that so far, Israel has made substantial cuts in its budgets for education, services and subsidies to religious instititions. It has reduced or done away with price supports for basic commodities.
He said that of Israel’s budget of approximately $21 billion, $10 billion goes toward servicing its debts and of the remaining $11 billion, $4.5 billion is absorbed by defense. One of Israel’s major economic goals, Peres said, is to increase its exports over the next few years from $11 billion to $19 billion a year.
OTHER ISSUES DISCUSSED
Tuming to other matters, Peres said he discussed the situation in Lebanon during his Washington talks and made it clear that Israel is interested in withdrawing its forces from Lebanon but only if proper security arrangements are made to protect its northem borders.
He said “Israel is not begging for anything from Syria” with respect to Lebanon but believes that the Syrians should be realistic and consider an Israeli withwithdrawal to be in their own interests.
Peres also referred to the present relationship with Egypt and the prospects of peace with Jordan. The problem is to bring Jordan into negotiations with Israel, he said. He said the Reagan plan for Mideast peace of September 1, 1982 was, as far as Israel is concerned, “not operational.”
Peres reported that he had discussed in Washington the fate of Soviet Jewry and elicited a “very sympathetic and positive response” from the Administration on the issue of Soviet Jewry and the sharp drop in the emigration of Soviet Jews.
Peres declared: “The fate of Russian, Syrian and Ethiopian Jewry is our fate. We will continue the fight for their freedom and for their right to emigrate.”