Israel Bows to Soviet Pressure On Settling Jewish Emigrants
JERUSALEM — UNEQUIVOCAL statements by Israel's new right-wing government that it will not settle Soviet Jewish immigrants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip come after international pressure and Soviet threats to curtail Jewish emigration. The statements by Israeli leaders reflect a sensitivity to international concern that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's right-wing coalition will aggravate the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories and halt the Middle East peace process.
On Monday, Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, who heads the ministerial committee on immigration, announced that ``immigration will not be settled beyond the green line,'' Israel's pre-1967 border with the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Referring to the ``problems'' created by settlement of the immigrants in the territories, Mr. Sharon said the government did not want to damage the ``historic'' process of Soviet Jewish immigration in Israel.
Mr. Shamir, in a letter to President Bush, plans to give similar assurances that immigrants will not be settled in occupied territories, according to press reports.
Last week Shamir wrote to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, promising that Israel would not settle immigrants in the territories and urging the Kremlin not to give in to Arab pressure to restrict Jewish emigration.
Shamir's statements met with support from a leader of one of the extreme right-wing partners in the government. Science Minister Yuval Neeman of the Tehiya Party said he agreed with the approach that immigration and settlement need not be linked.
The remarks by Sharon and Shamir go further than previous Israeli declarations, which said that the government had no policy of sending the immigrants to the occupied territories, although they were free to choose their place of residence. The immediate cause for alarm was reports that Soviet officials were putting bureaucratic obstacles in the way of Jews seeking to emigrate, instituting a de facto slowdown in emigration. The Kremlin has permitted about 50,000 Soviet Jews to go to Israel this year.
There has also been concern about recent statements by Mr. Gorbachev that his government would have to reconsider its emigration policy unless Israel provide guarantees that the immigrants would not be settled in the occupied territories.
Israeli policymakers were worried that the diplomatic campaign waged by Arab states against Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel was hitting home in Moscow and undermining Gorbachev's commitment to free emigration.
There were also pressures inside Israel for a clearer policy. Simcha Dinitz, head of the Jewish Agency that directs Soviet immigrants to Israel and absorbs them in the country, called on the government to set aside political considerations and act immediately to ensure the continued flow of Jewish immigrants.