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U.S. Jewish Delegation Urges Israel to Show Flexibility to Obtain Loans

A visiting American Jewish Committee delegation is urging the Israeli government to be flexible in order to obtain U.S. guarantees for $10 billion in loans badly needed for immigrant absorption.

They seemed hopeful, after a private meeting last Friday with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, that Israel and the United States would work out their differences over loan guarantees, provided Israel shows flexibility on the issue of settlements.

“There is room for optimism that a common formula will be found,” said Alfred Moses, the group’s president.

“According to our discussion, the prime minister believes that the United States is looking for a common formula acceptable to both sides and added that if this were the case, he was quite optimistic that an agreement could be reached,” Moses said.

However, no agreement will be forthcoming without compromise, asserted David Harris, the agency’s executive vice president.

“The United States and Israel must work out a formula that addresses both American and Israeli concerns,” said Harris. “While the Americans are worried about new Israeli settlements and the country’s ability to pay back loans, the Israeli government must be satisfied that it is not compromising its own principles.

“That’s the challenge and the conundrum,” he said. “However much support and identification there is in America with Israel’s daunting and vital challenge to absorb immigrants, the settlements issue will not go away.”

The AJCommittee leaders seemed taken aback by Health Minister Ehud Olmert’s negative prognostications about the loan guarantees and his attack on the Bush administration.

LIKUD MINISTER ‘NOT VERY OPTIMISTIC’

Addressing the delegation Monday, the Likud minister, a close ally of Shamir’s, said he was “not very optimistic on the chances to agree on the loan guarantees” and accused the U.S. administration of taking the Arab side in the dispute over the territories Israel captured in 1967.

“It is almost impossible to do anything that will gain approval or sympathy from the American government, which seems to try to antagonize Israel,” Olmert said.

He said that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker insists that Israel must make territorial compromises, “but to my knowledge, no secretary of state in the last 25 years has said that America favors such compromise” from the Arab side.

“The ultimate goal of the administration is to force Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders,” Olmert claimed, adding that Shamir’s government “will never accept this position, no matter how much pressure” the United States tries to assert.

Moses said afterward that he was “disappointed by the fact that Olmert expects the United States to state its belief in territorial compromise, but when asked whether he believes in it, the health minister was unwilling to say that he was.”

The AJCommittee delegation, which arrived here from Germany, is the third major American Jewish leadership group to meet with Shamir in recent weeks.

An American Jewish Congress group met with the prime minister two weeks ago, and prior to that, top officials of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations saw the Likud leader.

All discussed the loan guarantees issue.

Speaking of the role of American Jewish organizations, Harris said, “We have an obligation to try and help create an atmosphere conducive to solving the stalemate.”

He explained that “on Capitol Hill, we maintain that the United States must not lose sight of the fact that Israel remains a friend and ally.

‘A COMPELLING HUMANITARIAN NEED’

“Furthermore, there is a compelling humanitarian need for these guarantees, and the United States has a tradition of conferring humanitarian assistance without linkage in every corner of the world.

“Finally, these guarantees are financially manageable,” Harris stressed. “Israel is credit-worthy; the risks are low. The guarantees are neither loans nor grants.”

Harris said the AJCommittee delegation’s obligation has been to convey to Israeli officials, including Shamir, “the American mood and atmosphere with respect to Israel’s positions.”

“We’re here to talk with government officials, not only about bilateral discussions but to get a fuller appreciation, first-hand, of Israel’s needs,” said Moses.

Israel’s biggest challenge, said Moses, is to demonstrate to the American government and people that it truly needs the guarantees if it is to successfully absorb hundreds of thousands of new immigrants.

“The need for aliyah and thus the guarantees is real,” he said AJCommittee has done “extensive polling in the Soviet Union and found a great deal of anti-Semitism. There is real danger to Jews there, and they should be encouraged to move to Israel.”

But to encourage other Jews to make aliyah, Moses said, “we must successfully absorb the ones who are already here.”

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