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Snub to Sharon in Washington is Met with Defiance at Home

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The Bush administration’s snub of Housing Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington last week seems to have bred only more defiance in Israel.

The drive to build settlements in the administered territories has accelerated, despite U.S. admonitions that they are an “obstacle to peace.”

But Sharon’s triumphal homecoming Sunday, to the cheers of right-wing admirers, has also exposed a serious rift at the top echelons of the Likud government.

Foreign Minister David Levy chose the time of his arrival to deliver a stinging public attack in Tel Aviv on “elements in the coalition” who are trying to “impose” their anti-peace policies on Likud.

Sharon confirmed claims that more settlements would soon go up in the West Bank. Sharon said the first mobile homes would arrive shortly at Har Manoach, near Kiryat Arba.

He and the Gush Emunim activists who are his hard-core constituents insist it is not a new settlement but an expansion of Kiryat Arba that was begun years ago and then abandoned.

That sort of explanation does not sit well in Washington, which was embarrassed by the establishment of two new settlements in the midst of Secretary of State James Baker’s recent peace mission to the Middle East.

One of them was also alleged to be an extension of an existing settlement, though it was set up on a hilltop two miles away.

SHAMIR REFUSES TO DISCUSS IT

Apparently as a consequence of Sharon’s open opposition to U.S. policies, the State Department and the White House intervened last week to have Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp call off an official reception he had planned for Sharon at the HUD office.

The two met, but in private capacity under the auspices of the Israeli Embassy.

Sharon succeeded in convincing a majority of opinion at home that the slight was aimed at the sovereign State of Israel, not himself. Even opposition Knesset members took umbrage.

Israel lodged a formal protest with the United States on Thursday.

But that done, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir seemed anxious to put the episode behind him. He refused to be drawn into a discussion of it at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.

Political observers agreed that the snub to Sharon benefited the controversial minister’s political position at home.

Several hundred settlers and a half-dozen right-wing and religious Knesset members were at the airport to greet Sharon on Sunday when he arrived from the United States.

Notable among them was Knesset Speaker Dov Shilansky, who admitted that the conventions of his office should have kept him away. But the occasion demanded a demonstrative gesture, said the speaker, a Likud hard-liner. “There are times in the life of a nation when people should rise above their differences,” he said.

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