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Sharon Urges U.S. Jews to Thwart Effort to Link Loans to Settlements

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Housing Minister Ariel Sharon has called on American Jews to help thwart an anticipated move by the Bush administration to deny Israel loan guarantees for immigrant absorption until it halts settlement activity in the administered territories.

“You have to help us get this aid,” Sharon told 800 delegates attending the annual assembly of the Jewish Agency for Israel here Wednesday.

He was referring to U.S. guarantees that Israel will seek this fall for $10 billion in commercial loans to provide housing and infrastructure for an anticipated 1 million Soviet immigrants over the next five years.

The outspoken Likud minister was appealing to an audience made up largely of Zionist and Diaspora fund-raising leaders.

Some of them reportedly have warned Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to avoid a confrontation with the United States on the settlement issue, which has become the main source of friction between Shamir’s Likud government and the Bush administration.

But Sharon made clear that the government would not consider any kind of moratorium on settlement activity in the territories, even if the guarantees did not materialize.

The housing minister contended that settlements serve the cause of peace because they improve Israel’s security, enabling it to take risks in the peace process.

The Bush administration has taken an opposite view: that settlements are an obstacle to peace.

According to reports reaching here, Washington has asked members of the European Community to include a reprimand of Israel’s settlement policy at the E.C. summit scheduled this weekend.

JEWISH LEADERS WARN SHAMIR

Political sources noted that in the past, the Americans always tried to soften European resolutions against Israel, but now they seem to be coordinating anti-settlement efforts with the E.C.

The United States also reportedly has asked Germany to hold up its promised absorption assistance until Jerusalem commits itself to stop the settlement drive.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Thursday that the senior Jewish leaders who warned Shamir this week against a confrontation with Washington on the settlement issue included Seymour Reich, former chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Max Fisher, former president of the Council of Jewish Federations; and Robert Asher, former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

They reportedly told Shamir that although they support Israel’s right to settle in the territories, the confrontation should be avoided.

But Shamir reportedly was uncompromising. He replied that Israel would not give up its principles, even for the much-needed loan guarantees, because that concession would lead to demands for others.

Sharon, in his speech to the Jewish Agency assembly, recalled addressing the group a year ago, just after he took over the Housing Ministry.

“Last year at this time, there were 2,200 families living in tents,” Sharon recalled. “Now we have solved this problem.”

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