ASHKELON, Israel (Oct. 28)
Housing Minister Ariel Sharon told Jewish Agency leaders here last week that problems with Arab labor would not impede the construction of badly needed housing for immigrants and low-income Israelis.
If Palestinians from the administered territories are unavailable to build immigrant housing, “then unemployed Israelis will be put to work on construction sites. And if the Jews don’t want to do the work, then we’ll bring in construction workers from abroad,” Sharon vowed.
The fiery Likud Cabinet minister spoke here last Thursday to members of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, who are meeting in Jerusalem this week to discuss programs for Soviet aliyah and Jewish education. The 70 members of the board, who include Diaspora fund-raising and community leaders, toured construction sites in Kiryat Gat and Ashkelon with Sharon.
Work on many construction sites came to a halt last week as tens of thousands of Palestinian workers from the territories were kept from entering Israel proper, as a security precaution in the wake of a series of knifing attacks on Jews. They were allowed to return to work on Sunday.
Sharon said that of the 100,000 people working in construction, half are Palestinians from the territories, 40,000 are Arab citizens of Israel and 10,000 are Israeli Jews.
Sharon assured the Jewish Agency leaders that the pace of housing construction is picking up, even though the government still lags behind targets set earlier this year.
He said that 128,000 immigrants, most of them from the Soviet Union, have arrived so far this year, and the total is expected to climb to 180,000 by the end of December. Some 200,000 Soviet immigrants are expected next year.
PREFAB HOUSES HASTILY SET UP
During this fiscal year, which ends next March 30, the Israeli government is supposed to start construction of 45,000 apartments, and the private sector has agreed to begin work on another 20,000.
But work has begun on only 8,100 of the government-sponsored flats, Sharon and his aides acknowledged. Work is in progress on 17,000 of the 20,000 private-sector apartments.
The government is also ordering 15,000 prefabricated housing units, to be set up at 14 sites around the country, and 5,000 mobile homes.
The Jewish Agency leaders inspected four prefab units in Kiryat Gat, a development town in the northern Negev. The four units, the first of 450 that will be built in the town, were put in place only the day before. the one-story homes, which will be ready for occupancy in another three months, will sell for about $40,000.
The first several hundred mobile homes have been set up in the last week or so. These homes are designated mainly for low-income Israeli families who were forced into tents over the summer due to the sharp rise in rents.
Sharon said that there are only 300 families still in tents, compared with 2,200 this summer.
Last week, Sharon bitterly attacked the Finance Ministry for hampering his attempts to use liberal incentives to speed up housing starts. In his meeting with the Jewish Agency leaders, however, Sharon studiously avoided controversy. He ignored repeated questions about the reasons for the slow progress on housing construction.
Over the next few years, Sharon said, the public sector will be building about 60,000 apartments a year, with the private sector holding at about 20,000.
Most of these apartments will be built in Galilee, the Negev and along the Green Line separating the administered territories from pre-1967 Israel. About 5,000 apartments a year are to be built in Jerusalem, most of these in areas annexed in 1967.