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Sharon Announces Plan to Construct Thousands of Homes in East Jerusalem

Housing Minister Ariel Sharon may have set Israel on a collision course with the United States when he announced plans to build 17,000 new apartments for Soviet Jewish immigrants in Jerusalem, all but 2,000 of them in the Arab-populated eastern part of the city.

The plan, adopted Sunday by the Ministerial Absorption Committee, which is headed by Sharon, is believed to have the tacit support of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and will be presented to the Cabinet for approval.

It is being seen as an angry response to the American sponsorship of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the fatal shooting by police of 21 Arab rioters on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem a week ago.

Sharon’s move is also being viewed here as an attempt to undermine the credibility and status of Foreign Minister David Levy, who provided assurances to the U.S. government on Oct. 2 that Israel would not “direct or settle Soviet Jews beyond the Green Line.”

Levy made that pledge to obtain U.S. government guarantees for $400 million in loans that Israel hopes to use to build badly needed immigrant housing.

The “Green Line” is the imaginary demarcation line between Israel proper and the territories captured by Israel in 1967. It encompasses the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are governed by a civil administration under military rule.

East Jerusalem, on the other hand, was annexed by Israel in 1967 and proclaimed an integral part of the Jewish state. The United States and most other countries do not recognize the annexation.

‘NO GREEN LINE IN JERUSALEM’

“There is no Green Line in Jerusalem,” Sharon declared Monday. “We never took on ourselves a commitment not to build in Jerusalem — never,” the former Israel Defense Force general said in an army radio interview.

Asked whether there was no conflict between his committee’s recommendations and Levy’s promises in Washington, Sharon replied that the only commitment in effect was that newly arrived immigrants would not be settled in the administered territories.

“Not that we think it is just, but we agreed to it, in order not to jeopardize Soviet aliyah,” he told the army radio.

Shamir’s position was reflected in the sharp comments by Yossi Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Ben-Aharon directly criticized Levy for promising to limit the use of American-guaranteed loan funds within the Green Line and to keep the United States informed of the use of the funds.

According to the prime minister’s aide, the Bush administration will use that information to challenge Jewish settlements in the West Bank that the Likud-led government is determined will proliferate.

For the moment, Israeli leaders are furious over the American support for the Security Council resolution, which was unanimously adopted last Friday night and rejected by the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday as “totally unacceptable.”

Israeli leaders see in the resolution the beginnings of a move to undermine Israel’s sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

Of the 17,000 housing units Sharon’s committee decided to build for Soviet newcomers, 15,000 will be erected in East Jerusalem, where some 150,000 Arabs live encircled by more than 300,000 Jews in the western part of the city and its suburbs.

The plans call for two new Jewish neighborhoods consisting of 2,400 units in the northern reaches of East Jerusalem, between the heavily Jewish French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhoods.

Another 4,500 units would go up on the Wall Mountain and along a stretch of the Bethlehem Road in southern East Jerusalem. Other flats would be built in existing Jewish parts of East Jerusalem.

Sharon’s committee is also recommending generous incentives for settlers and builders. The government would offer larger mortgages to immigrants settling in Jerusalem and would give developers 100 percent guarantees that their apartments will be sold.

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