Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is trying to repair whatever damage might have been done by his suggestion this week that the influx of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union would affect territorial policies.
Israelis are concerned by the impact his remarks might have in the United States, which helps Israel absorb newcomers.
The prime minister told Likud supporters in Tel Aviv on Sunday night that the rising tide of aliyah would lead to a “bigger Israel, a stronger Israel, Eretz Yisrael.”
That was widely interpreted here as meaning that massive immigration will require a “Greater Israel,” usually defined as pre-1967 Israel plus all of the administered territories.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Wednesday that Shamir’s remarks “were not helpful.”
“Our position is clear,” Tutwiler said. “We do not think that building settlements or putting even more settlers in the territories promotes the cause of peace.”
Shamir told a news conference in Rishon le-Zion on Tuesday that all he meant by his remark was that large-scale immigration would require a “strong, united Israel.”
He expressed surprise that anyone should think that could hurt aliyah, “since the Soviet Union has changed its policy and has given every Soviet citizen the right to live wherever he wants.”
Immigrants to Israel also will henceforth be free to settle wherever they choose, be it Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or a West Bank settlement, Shamir said.
In past decades, immigrants were generally shunted away from the main population centers to outlying areas requiring development.
NO U.S. FUNDS FOR TERRITORIES
But officials of both the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government have asserted that no U.S. government or philanthropic funds will be used to settle immigrants in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
In Washington, Tutwiler affirmed that the United States does not provide “resources or funds for settlement of new immigrants in the occupied territories. Our current program is explicitly limited to Israel inside the Green Line,” she said.
Tutwiler said that Israel provides the United States with accounts on how the $3 billion in U.S. economic and military aid is spent.
Nevertheless, Israeli officials are troubled by the impact Shamir’s remarks may have in the United States, where Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) has just suggested a paring of U.S. economic aid to Israel, Egypt and three other countries in favor of aid to emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and Panama.
“Greater Israel” has always been the policy of the Israeli right wing. Shamir has vowed never to relinquish an additional inch of territory for the sake of peace with the Arabs.
Advocates of territorial compromise, on the other hand, cite Israel’s demographic disadvantage compared to the Arab population. They say that if the territories are not returned, Arabs will become the majority in Israel in the near future.
The quarter-million Soviet Jews expected in the next three years could correct that imbalance.
MAINLY SETTLE IN BIG CITIES
But visions of a predominantly Jewish-populated West Bank and Gaza Strip were rejected by a leading geographer and demographer, Dr. Elisha Efrat.
Writing in Ha’aretz, he cited published figures showing that Soviet immigrants are not drawn to the towns and settlements in the administered territories,
In 1988, half the newcomers chose to live in one of the three largest cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa. Twice as many settled in Jerusalem as Tel Aviv.
A quarter of the immigrants settled in the Gush Dan area, including Herzliya, Petach Tikva and Rishon le-Zion, all dense population centers of Israel proper. Less than 12 percent settled in development towns.
In 1989, the trend changed. According to figures for the first nine months supplied by the Jewish Agency, Haifa was the main absorption site, followed by Netanya.
But half of the newcomers continued to gravitate to the three largest cities.
According to Efrat, if Israel gives the immigrants freedom to settle where they want, few will move outside the major cities.
Those who choose development towns will select the relatively successful ones, such as Beersheba, Upper Nazareth and Carmiel.
Efrat said there is no tendency among the immigrants to settle in areas across the Green Line, which separates pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.