WASHINGTON (Mar. 1)
Israel’s minister of immigration and absorption personally assured Secretary of State James Baker this week that Israel does not have a policy of settling Soviet Jewish immigrants in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
Yitzhak Peretz said he told Baker and a top aide Wednesday that their recent warnings to Israel about settling immigrants in the territories were based on rumors about Israel’s policies, no facts.
“I am the minister in charge of absorbing those newcomers, and I know exactly where each and every newcomer is going to settle,” Peretz said he told the two U.S. officials.
“I want to make it very clear that the State of Israel does not direct newcomers to an place,” he said at a news conference Thursday.
Peretz had a 15-minute meeting with Baker at the State Department and also met with Dennis Ross, director of the policy planning staff.
The Israeli official said he told Baker and Ross that, despite what they have heard, they are no special incentives for Soviet olim to settle in the administered territories.
He quoted the two U.S. officials as saying “this made things easier for them.”
Peretz, who spoke in Hebrew, said that just before meeting with Baker, he telephoned Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who agreed with what he was about to tell the secretary.
Shamir made a similar statement Wednesday in a speech to the Conference of Presidents Major American Jewish Organizations, which was in Jerusalem for its annual Israel seminar.
124 SETTLED THERE LAST YEAR
Peretz, who heads the mainly Sephardic Orthodox party Shas, came to Washington the week to brief Israeli consuls general stationed the United States on the immigration situation.
He maintained that Israel’s new policy “direct absorption” is based on freedom choice. Only about 124 of the 13,000 Soviet olim who arrived in Israel in 1989 settled in the territories, he said.
He said most Soviet immigrants go to places where they have relatives or friends, and that generally not the territories.
Because Soviet Jews were cut off from Jewish religion and education for more than years, the territories do not have the same torical and religious meaning they have for some Jews.
Peretz said that 11,000 Soviet Jews came Israel in January and February, almost as many in all of 1989, and he expects the total to reach 100,000 by the end of the year.
He said he had personally checked figure, but could not verify a prediction made Wednesday in Israel that the figure will be high as 230,000.
“Divine providence has given the State Israel the challenge to absorb Soviet Jewry thus save them from a very unclear future Peretz said.