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Likud and Labor Split over Where to Build Housing for Soviet Olim

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Likud and Labor are battling over whether to build urgently needed new housing in the administered territories or in Israel proper.

The issue is directly related to allegations, made mainly by Arab states, that Israel plans to settle thousands of arriving Soviet Jewish immigrants in either the West Bank or Gaza Strip, in order to displace the Palestinian population there.

While the Likud-led Ministry of Construction and Housing wants to build in the territories to attract new immigrants, Laborites would give priority to development towns within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Israel received strongly worded warnings Monday from both Washington and Moscow against settling the immigrants in the territories.

Israel pointed out in response that the new arrivals are hardly rushing to live there. Only 50 of the 20,000 who arrived since the summer–about a quarter of 1 percent — have shown interest in settling in the territories.

According to Jewish Agency figures, out of the 9,980 immigrant families that arrived in Israel from “countries of distress” between April and December 1989, only 45 have settled in the West Bank.

“This is nonsense that immigrants are directed to Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip,” said Uri Ariel, secretary general of the Council of Jewish Settlements in the territories.

“The days in which one could have told immigrants to settle here and there are long gone,” he said.

GAZA STRIP TOURS FOR IMMIGRANTS

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has insisted that the immigrants are free to settle wherever they want. But his recent remark that a “large, strong state” is required to absorb the newcomers was widely interpreted at home and abroad as justification for a “Greater Israel.”

Even in the absence of an official policy to populate the territories with immigrants, there is nothing to prevent the settlers from trying to increase their numbers by immigration.

Leaders of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip contact Soviet emigres at the absorption centers and try to convince them to settle in the region.

Last week, they conducted the first organized tour of the Gush Katif, a concentration of 15 Jewish settlements in the center of the Gaza Strip. The Soviet newcomers were offered housing and job opportunities, but none so far has shown any interest in moving there.

About 30 apartments are available in the Gush Katif. There are 700 empty flats in the West Bank, and plans call for building 1,500 more by the end of the year. They are at the heart of the controversy between Labor and Likud.

David Levy, the powerful Likud minister who heads the Construction and Housing Ministry, is ideologically committed to increasing the Jewish population in the territories.

The availability of attractive, low-cost housing would be a magnet for new immigrants, considering that the price of apartments is rising rapidly in Israel proper.

But Raphael Edri, a Labor Party minister without, portfolio, proposed Tuesday that the government start construction immediately of 5,000 flats in development towns in Israel.

Deputy Finance Minister Yossi Beilin, also of Labor, said allocating funds for housing in the territories would be a “total waste” because the immigrants are not likely to go there.

Meanwhile, Ha’aretz reported Wednesday that the Cabinet will soon discuss disturbing reports of rising anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and the entire Eastern bloc.

A report on the situation prepared for the Cabinet recommends top priority for the emigration of Jews from those countries.

Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said efforts must be made to get Jews out of the Soviet Union while the Soviet authorities continue their liberal emigration policies, which, he implied, could be reversed at any time.

According to Netanyahu, about 300,000 Soviet Jews already hold exit visas, but have been unable to leave because of lack of funds and lack of flights to Israel.

An official of a Soviet Jewry advocacy group in the United States said that it is currently impossible to book a flight out of the Soviet Union before January 1991.

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