Rabin OKs settlements in bid to build coalition

July 01, 1992|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- In an attempt to win right-wing support for the coalition it is building, Israel's Labor Party dropped yesterday its calls for a one-year freeze on settlement activity in the occupied territories while Mideast peace talks are under way.

New guidelines approved by Yitzhak Rabin say the Labor-led government will "reinforce settlement along the confrontation lines," which had been defined by Mr. Rabin as the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights.

In a separate speech, Mr. Rabin also said that he favored continued construction around Jerusalem, citing as an example nearby Maale Adumim, a town of 15,000 that is the largest settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Labor officials insisted that they had not really retreated from often-stated positions on Israeli settlement activity, considered by the United States to be an obstacle to Middle East peace and the main reason Washington has withheld $10 billion in requested loan guarantees for resettling Jewish immigrants in Israel.

Mr. Rabin, the officials said, still opposes "political settlements," which is what he accuses the present Likud-led government of building and which he says differ sharply from settlements that he would build only to enhance Israel's security along the "confrontation lines."

Moreover, they said, he remains committed to a post-election pledge last week to slash special government subsidies and financial incentives to Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But they argued that for political reasons -- namely, to draw a small but influential right-wing party called Tsomet into a Labor-led coalition -- they preferred to say nothing officially now about a closely related matter.

It is a call for a one-year freeze on establishing settlements of any kind -- political or security -- to avoid possibly disrupting the peace talks.

This call appears in the party's platform, approved last November. With Mr. Rabin's approval, it disappeared yesterday from written guidelines that will serve as Labor's basic agenda as it tries to form an alliance with religious and left- and right-wing parties.

"The principle of a freeze on settlements is absolutely intact," an official close to Mr. Rabin said. But there are also practical considerations, he added.

"This may make it easier for Tsomet to come in," he said. "I don't think there's a change in intentions. But the vaguer you make it, the easier you make it for partners to join the coalition."

One question, however, is whether Labor has now made this point so vague that it risks alienating Meretz, its would-be ally on the left. Meretz wants a full freeze on settlements, no matter how they are labeled. It did not react immediately to Labor's new stand.

Mr. Rabin also reiterated campaign calls for non-stop peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Since they started eight months ago, the peace talks have lurched along with little discernible progress after a ceremonial round in Madrid, Spain, and then five sessions in Washington.

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