JERUSALEM -- In a direct challenge to Bush administration calls for his government to stop building settlements in occupied lands, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared defiantly yesterday that "this construction will continue, and no power in the world will prevent this construction."
His finance minister went a step further, saying that if the United States insisted on a settlement freeze as the price for $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees that Israel says it needs to absorb new Jewish immigrants, he would rather forgo the assistance, no matter what the economic consequences.
"It is impossible to give up this hold on the land or undermine it for reasons of absorption or the population's welfare," said Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai. "We'll have to suffer together."
While the substance of what the Israeli officials said was not new, the timing was significant.
Having lost his parliamentary majority Sunday when two far-rightparties walked out of his governing coalition, Mr. Shamir seems headed for national elections in the next few months, and his uncompromising remarks yesterday opened his political campaign. He has apparently decided that talking tough on settlements, especially before a group of cheering settlers in Betar Illit, outside Jerusalem, will do him enough good with Israeli voters to outweigh the harm it is almost certain to cause him in Washington.
"We see the construction in all of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and in all the land of Israel," Mr. Shamir said as he planted a tree at the settlement. Judea and Samaria are the biblical names that Israel uses for the West Bank.
"We will build, and I hope very much that we will also obtain guarantees," he said. "In any case, I'm sure we will continue to absorb emigration."
At the same time, a military review panel in the occupied Gaza Strip upheld an army order to expel seven Palestinians accused of fomenting violence, Reuters reported, quoting Palestinian sources.
The United Nations and the United States, Israel's closest ally, strongly condemned the expulsion orders as a violation of international law.
Five other Palestinian activists due to be expelled are from the occupied West Bank, but the review panel there has yet to make its recommendation.
Israel announced the expulsion of the 12 Arabs on charges of inciting violence early this month after the shooting of four
Israelis in ambushes in the occupied territories.
Public opinion polls suggest that irritation with Mr. Shamir's hard-nosed position on settlements is widespread, for many Israelis complain that he is sacrificing the economic well-being and social needs on an altar of unyielding ideology.