JERUSALEM (Mar. 29)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir tried once again Wednesday to clarify his stance on the settlement of Soviet Jews in the administered territories.
The Likud leader, repeatedly dogged by his statement Jan. 14 that a “big Israel” would be needed to absorb the thousands of arriving Soviet Jews, maintained that it is not Israeli government policy to direct the immigrants to “any particular areas of the country.”
However, he softened this statement by reiterating that Israel would not deter Soviet Jews from going anywhere in Israel they so choose.
He made his comments to a group of 120 United Jewish Appeal leaders participating in a mission to the Soviet Union and Israel.
Shamir’s initial statement was meant to assuage Arab fears that Israel would settle thousands of Soviet immigrants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, thereby displacing Palestinian residents.
Those Arab apprehensions were triggered by Shamir’s statement about a “big Israel” and have led to discussions on the issue at the United Nations, in foreign capitals and in the world media.
They also provoked a threat from a terrorist group in Lebanon toward Hungary for facilitating in the transportation of Soviet Jews emigrating to Israel, which in turn led to the Hungarian state airline suspending those flights. They have since reportedly been resumed.
VIRTUAL POLITICAL SUICIDE
As Shamir himself said Wednesday, “The Arabs are waging a campaign against this wave of aliyah. They arc mobilizing the support of foreign governments; they arc encouraging their terrorist organizations to use physical violence.”
Shamir might be able to lay the whole issue to rest if he disavowed his “big Israel” statement unambiguously, as some American Jewish groups have suggested.
But to do that would be virtual political suicide in a party that is on record as opposing any talk of territorial compromise.
Hence, Shamir’s double-edged statement Wednesday that Israel would not direct Soviet Jews to “any particular areas” was coupled with the immediate qualifier that “we shall not forbid any Jew from going to Judea, Samaria or elsewhere.”
“Every Jewish immigrant has complete freedom to choose where he wants to live,” he maintained.
Shamir told the group he was reiterating his position “to avoid misunderstandings, which some elements have tried to inject into the issue and to exploit against us.”
But when pressed on the matter further by a member of the UJA delegation, the prime minister maintained that he had “said nothing about settlements” in his now-famous remark.
“I said that a great aliyah needs a strong country and a great leader — that’s all,” he told the group.
Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, asked later what he thought of Shamir’s original remark, smiled devilishly while he told the UJA leaders, “To remain silent is better.”