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News Analysis: Clash Between Sharon and Moda’i on Soviet Olim a Battle of Wills

The clash between two ambitious Likud ministers over priorities for Soviet olim is as much a matter of hard facts as it is of strong wills.

Ariel Sharon, the retired general whose brilliant tactics made him the only hero to emerge from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, believes in quick, bold action.

As minister of construction and housing, he has staked his political career on a crash program with a $13.5 billion price tag, which will provide housing for 1 million immigrants expected over the next five years.

Without it, Sharon warns, Israel will be consumed by social unrest.

Moda’i, a former and present finance minister, is a tireless politician who does not leap at quick solutions. He has announced his opposition to Sharon’s program on grounds it will lead to devastating inflation and unemployment.

As far as Moda’i is concerned, jobs take precedence over housing. In his view, until they find adequate employment, the newcomers can live in tents or tin huts if necessary.

Moda’i, like Sharon, has based his political future on this issue.

He and Sharon, fierce hard-liners on most policy matters, share the ambition to replace Yitzhak Shamir as leader of Likud and prime minister. They allied themselves last year against Shamir’s peace initiative, which called for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and virtually brought it to a halt.

WANTS QUICK SOLUTION

Now the former allies are at swords’ point.

Sharon, bitterly criticized for his incursion into Lebanon in 1982, now wants to achieve a quick solution to the pressing housing shortage. He wants to achieve this by unorthodox means, such as the massive import of temporary housing.

Impatient with bureaucracies, he also wants to circumvent the planning and zoning laws and grant tax incentives.

After the High Court of Justice abrogated Sharon’s emergency powers earlier this month, he appeared last Sunday before the Cabinet and asked for Knesset legislation to reinstate those emergency powers.

Among Sharon’s plans are the purchase of 50,000 mobile homes and 40,000 prefabricated homes over the next two years, at an estimated cost of $3 billion.

His plans also call for the government to build 45,000 apartments this year and about 60,000 more every year for the next four years.

Sharon would refurbish some 8,500 units belonging to the government-owned Amidar housing company. He would temporarily house some of the immigrants in hotels, guest houses, hostels, army camps and kibbutzim.

The housing minister went on television Tuesday to convince the public. He warned that if there is no immediate solution to the housing problem, aliyah may be halted.

Moda’i, who claims credit for reducing inflation from triple to double digits while he was finance minister in 1985, does not want galloping inflation to return while he holds that office again.

But Sharon fears the potential of a social explosion is so great that one cannot wait for gradual solutions.

He sees not only the pressing needs of the immigrants but also the growing tension among the settled Israelis, especially young couples who cannot find affordable housing.

He is shrewd enough a politician to know he does not have much time. He must show some results by the 1992 Knesset elections or be blamed for the housing crisis.

On the other hand, if the crisis is averted, the credit would be mostly his.

Turning his back on his former constituency when he was minister of industry and trade in the last government, Sharon now wants to import houses against the immediate interests of local manufacturers and builders.

It is “the only way to cope with the situation,” he told the television audience.

Moda’i, strictly a man of finance, warns that Sharon’s demand for an immediate $3 billion addition to the state budget for absorption purposes could cause an 8.5 percent budget deficit.

“There is no Western economy that is capable of living with such a deficit,” he said last week.

Moda’i is also well aware that even if the housing shortage is relieved, an unstable economy could still shake Israeli society and end the flow of immigrants.

To create jobs requires a revival of the faltering economy, which requires time.

That was behind Moda’i’s blunt statement last week that immigrants could just as well live in temporary housing, like the hideous ma’abarot of the early ’50s, when waves of immigrants were pouring in from North Africa.

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