JERUSALEM, OCT. 3 -- New assurances by Israel to the United States on Jewish settlement of the occupied territories -- described by Washington as unprecedented -- will lead to no change in the government's subsidies to the settlements or in its work to expand them, officials here said today.
In particular, they said, Israel will continue with plans to build more than 2,000 units of new housing in Arab East Jerusalem and to settle immigrants in it.
In announcing the U.S. agreement to provide Israel with $400 million in loan guarantees to build housing, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Tuesday that Israel had offered assurances "considerably beyond" its usual commitment not to use U.S. funds in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel plans to use the U.S.-backed loans for a massive building program to house the tens of thousands of Soviet immigrants pouring into the country.
Baker said Israel had pledged "that immigrants will not be settled beyond the Green Line" -- Israel's internationally recognized 1967 border, and that the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir would give the United States information about the expansion and financing of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
Israel's agreement to those conditions, formulated in a letter from Foreign Minister David Levy to Baker, ended weeks of tense negotiations between the two governments over the loan guarantees. Although approved by Congress last spring, the guarantees were held up by the Bush administration for months in an apparent effort to gain concessions from Israel about its settlement program.
In Jerusalem today, however, officials insisted that the Israeli commitments represented no change in the policies of Shamir's government, which is committed to maintaining Israel's control over the territories.
East Jerusalem, which lies outside the Green Line and which has been a sore point between Bush and Shamir, "did not come up in the discussions," said a senior Foreign Ministry official, who added, "The Americans know exactly what the plans are, and there is going to be no change."
Foreign Ministry officials said Israel also will continue its policy of allowing Soviet immigrants to move to the territories if they choose to, and that the government will continue its funding for settlement expansion. Israeli news media have estimated settlement funding to amount to at least $80 million this year.
While Soviet immigrants receive the same government funding regardless of where they live, officials said the government will continue incentive programs under which both contractors building apartments in the occupied territories and Israelis who buy them receive special subsidies. U.S. attempts to force changes in these programs were rebuffed, they said.
Levy, who arrived back from the United Nations today, also denied that Israel had committed itself to making regular reports to Washington on the settlements. He said that he had agreed only that the Foreign Ministry would answer U.S. requests for information, which he said it usually does.
Officials said that the government had managed to deflect U.S. demands for far greater commitments, including the freezing of settlement in the territories. About 90,000 Jewish settlers now live among the 1.7 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and many of the Jewish communities have ambitious plans for expansion in the coming years. The government says that only a few hundred Soviets have moved to the territories so far, but excludes from its calculations several thousand who have settled in East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights, which Israel has annexed since capturing it from Syria in the 1967 war.
The U.S. loan guarantees will save Israel about $21 million in borrowing costs in a housing program amounting to billions of dollars. However, both sides saw the assurances as an important precedent for future agreements between the Bush administration and Israel. According to reports in the Israeli press, Shamir's government plans to ask Washington for up to $4 billion in additional loans and guarantees to fund its absorption of immigrants in the next few years.