Resettlement in Israel

WASHINGTON should do what it can to help resettle the thousands of Soviet Jews heading for Israel. The US government has, after all, had a hand in increasing the proportion of such immigrants likely to choose Israel as a final destination by restricting to 50,000 the number of Soviet Jews that will be accepted in the US as refugees next year. Within the limits of the budget and current law, guaranteed loans for new housing should be offered, in response to Israeli requests. But what shouldn't be offered or allowed is any aid that could be channeled into construction of new Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank of the Jordan.

US policy has been stated and restated in that regard. Secretary of State James Baker has called on Israel to stop ``settlement activity'' in the West Bank. He recognizes, as do most Americans interested in seeing the Mideast peace process prosper, that such activity is a roadblock to progress.

On the other hand, settlement in those lands is a matter of faith for many Israelis, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Given the strength of that sentiment in the current government, the likelihood of some of the newcomers being settled on the West Bank is great - and the government admits as much.

So US administrators of any aid will need iron-clad assurances that none will go to West Bank settlement. Any flimsiness in the arrangement could jeopardize US ability to act as a honest broker for peace in the region.

It's to be hoped, too, that Israel itself would have qualms about placing many of its new citizens in the dicey environment of the West Bank.

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