WASHINGTON (Jan. 29)
Israel received strong warnings Monday from both the United States and the Soviet Union about settling newly arrived Soviet Jews in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In Moscow, the chief Israeli consular official, Arye Levin, was summoned to the Soviet Foreign Ministry and warned by the first deputy foreign minister of the “grave consequences” of settling immigrants in the administered territories, according to reports from Jerusalem.
Later, at a Moscow news conference, the Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman said an influx of immigrants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would “expose the Middle East to grave dangers and would jeopardize the peace process.”
In Washington, the State Department said the United States had informed Israel that housing the new immigrants in the territories would not help Middle East peace efforts.
“Building settlements or putting even more settlers in the territories is an obstacle to the cause of peace,” said the State Department’s deputy spokesman, Richard Boucher.
Boucher said the United States expressed its concern to Israel, because “we have seen reports that some of the (Soviet) emigres have chosen to settle in the occupied territories.”
With the growing number of Soviet Jews coming to Israel, several American newspapers have focused attention in the last week on those settling in the West Bank.
One report estimated that of 12,056 Soviet Jews said to have come to Israel in 1989, 400 have gone to the West Bank.
ALARM BELLS IN ARAB WORLD
The Israeli government is not openly encouraging Soviet immigrants to make their homes in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Most who go there do so to join families, because of their own ideological bent or at the urging of West Bank settlers, who have been courting Soviet olim.
But recent remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir have helped create the impression that at least an influential portion of the Israeli government would like nothing better than to see a massive exodus of immigrants to the territories.
Shamir drew criticism from the Bush administration when he told a Likud party meeting in Tel Aviv on Jan. 14 that the increasing Soviet aliyah would lead to a “bigger Israel, a strong Israel, Eretz Yisrael.”
This was interpreted in Jerusalem and Washington as advocating the need for the territories to handle the new immigration.
But after the United States called his remarks “not helpful,” Shamir told a news conference that he only meant to say that the increased immigration requires a “strong, united Israel.”
Nevertheless, the prime minister’s remarks have sounded alarm bells in the Arab world, where Arab leaders have stated in recent days that the growing number of Soviet Jews in the West Bank may lead to the ouster of Palestinians living there.
King Hussein of Jordan called the Jewish immigration an “impending danger” in a recent interview with Jordanian reporters. “Whom will these thousands of immigrants replace and what will happen to those who will be replaced by the new arrivals?” he asked.
NO CHANGE IN ISRAEL AID EXPECTED
Other Arab leaders and officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization have reportedly been complaining to Soviet ambassadors in the Middle East. The PLO’s executive committee was scheduled to meet in Tunis on Monday to discuss the issue.
“We are aware of their concerns,” Boucher said Monday of the Arabs.
Boucher also repeated the administration’s contention that no U.S. aid is used for the settlements.
“We do not and will not provide U.S. government resources or funds for settlement of immigrants in the occupied territories,” he said. “U.S. assistance to Israel is explicitly limited to Israel inside the Green Line.”
The United Jewish Appeal, which this month announced plans to raise $420 million to help resettle Soviet Jews in Israel, has also stressed that the funds for jobs, housing and others forms of assistance will only be used within the Green Line, the border that separates pre-1967 Israel from the territories.
Although the $1.2 million in economic aid Israel receives annually from the United States is not earmarked for specific projects, Boucher maintained that the United States can monitor and audit how the funds are spent.
Meanwhile, the 1991 budget submitted to Congress by President Bush on Monday does not contain specific foreign aid allocations. These will be outlined at a State Department briefing Thursday afternoon.
However, Israel is expected to continue receiving its $3 billion annual allocation, including $1.8 billion in military aid.
(JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)