Prime Minister Sparks Controversy over Support for ‘seam’ Settlement

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told the Cabinet this week that he is in favor of freeing up public land for construction of a Jewish settlement that straddles the West Bank near Jerusalem.

Rabin’s decision elicited criticisms from a member of his Cabinet, who said Rabin would be breaking previous promises not to build settlements in the territories.

In 1992, Rabin froze construction on 10,000 housing units in the territories in order to win loan guarantees totaling some $10 billion from the Bush administration.

Rabin reportedly told the Cabinet this week that construction of the Alfei Menashe settlement would not violate his promises to former President George Bush to freeze all settlement construction, since the issue at hand was private rather than government-subsidized construction.

But Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni objected to the decision, saying this would violate the freeze and that Israel had no right to expand existing settlements by freeing up public land.

She told reporters after the Cabinet session that Rabin informed his ministers that he had previously told Presidents Bush and Clinton that he could not stop people who already had contracts from engaging in some private building of settlements.

“But this is something different,” said Aloni, “because we are talking about land that does not belong to Israel.”

Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer defended Rabin’s decision, saying that building housing in unspecified “seam” settlements near the Green Line, or pre-1967 border, should be considered.

Agriculture Minister Ya’acov Tsur also backed Rabin, saying, “I think we should do it, but only minimally, in areas such as those around Jerusalem.

“I would not go much beyond that, except in the areas around the ‘seam,’ ” Tsur said, referring to an area approximately 100 yards across the Green Line.

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