Freeze on Jewish settlements has both sides hot

July 28, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli government's freeze on Jewish settlements is seeming more like just a cool chill.

As the new government of Yitzhak Rabin sorts out the massive building program of its predecessor, it has decided to complete more than half the construction under way in the occupied territories.

The result will be enough new homes to increase the Jewish population in the Arab territories by nearly 50 percent, if the buildings are completed and filled.

When they realized the numbers yesterday, liberal members of Mr. Rabin's government cried foul.

"The number of units the government decided not to complete is too small," said Meretz party Knesset member Dedi Zucker. "The understanding that made us join the government was different."

But government members said stopping construction substantially under way would create legal problems with the contractors and would be more costly.

"It's impossible to stop work" on those buildings already half-built, said Finance Minister Avraham Shohat. The decision to complete them is "based on rational economic and political considerations."

Mr. Rabin campaigned with a promise to halt the government's preoccupation with settling the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jews.

Last week, his cabinet ministers imposed freezes on many of the projects. Those steps were the centerpiece of moves by Israel and the United States to restart the Middle East Peace Talks.

But the Israeli cabinet also has decided to finish building more than 8,700 homes in the West Bank and Gaza, and another 1,600 in and around Jerusalem. The decision gives the green light to more units than the number affected by the freeze, about 6,700 housing units.

, More than 100,000 Jewish set

tlers live in fenced and guarded pockets of modern housing -- ranging from simple mobile homes to lavish California-style ranchers -- among the 1.8 million Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Rabin government's decision to finish units already near completion could provide housing for another 50,000 settlers in the next two years, if all the units are occupied.

But Peace Now, a liberal group that tracks settlement activity, said many of the housing units already constructed are unoccupied. Few services and fewer jobs are available in the isolated settlements to attract any but the most politically commit

ted to live there.

The Shamir government had offered incentives to encourage settlements, including a reduction in income taxes, cheap houses and reduced rate mortgages. The Rabin cabinet ended those benefits Sunday.

The Housing Ministry has halted delivery of mobile homes. It stopped the repurchase of apartments built by contractors for settlers. It halted work on 10 major roads intended to connect the Jewish settlements.

Its freezes included units at the planning board for which no contract has been signed and units under contract which have not ad

vanced beyond the foundation. The government said this would save an immediate $400 million.

The moves outraged leaders of the settler movement, some of whom have urged physical resistance to the government's intentions. Police have stepped up their protection of the Housing Minister, Benyamin Ben Eliezer, after he received telephone threats on his life.

Meanwhile, Arab governments have criticized Mr. Rabin's decision to finish the housing under construction and his vow to continue building in Jerusalem and "strategic" settlements along Arab borders in the Jordan Valley and Golan Heights.

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