THE WASHINGTON SUMMIT. Dealing ith the New Reality : Gorbachev Threatens Halt in Exodus of Soviet Jews
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said Sunday that Moscow may suspend its relaxed emigration policy and once again prevent Jews from leaving the country unless Israel provides guarantees that Soviet citizens will not be settled in the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip.
Talking to a joint press conference at the conclusion of their Washington summit, Gorbachev and President Bush both called on the Israeli government to end Jewish settlement in the predominantly Arab territories that Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East War. But Gorbachev took the issue a step further by linking emigration and settlements.
“Either--after these meetings and exchanges with the President of the United States of America on this particular issue--our concern will be heeded in Israel and they will make certain conclusions, or else we must give further thought to it in terms of what we can do with issuing permits for exit,” Gorbachev said through an interpreter.
Bush, addressing the issue before Gorbachev dropped his bombshell, said that the United States opposes West Bank and Gaza settlements and will “try to persuade the government of Israel that it is counterproductive to go forward with additional settlements in these territories.”
In Jerusalem, the government of caretaker Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir rejected the call for ending its policy of encouraging Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. However, a spokesman said that very few Soviet Jews have settled in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and that Gorbachev should not be concerned.
Gorbachev said he is coming under increasing pressure from Arab governments to keep Soviet Jews from settling in the West Bank and Gaza. He said that one response might be “to postpone issuing permits for exit.”
“What kind of guarantees can we issue so that those who want to leave, those who have chosen Israel as their place of residence, those who leave from the Soviet Union, should not be resettled in occupied territories?” he added.
It was Gorbachev’s first public suggestion that Moscow might end about two years of relatively unfettered emigration of Soviet Jews. However, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said later that Soviet officials raised the issue with him in private last month when he visited Moscow.
Baker said that the U.S. government supports “unconditional” emigration of Jews and other Soviet citizens, although it continues to oppose Jewish settlement in the occupied territories.
If the Soviet Union did choke off Jewish emigration, the United States would surely withhold the most-favored-nation trade status that Moscow long has sought. Bush and Gorbachev signed a new trade agreement Friday that will not go into effect until the Soviet legislature passes a new law guaranteeing the freedom of emigration, which Gorbachev now says may be curtailed.
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry immediately issued a statement calling on Bush to insist on continued liberal emigration as a condition of improved U.S.-Soviet relations.
“We cannot accept the Soviet President’s upping the ante regarding conditions for free Jewish emigration, and we urgently remind President Bush that his agreement to the condition set down today by the Soviet leader would be a flagrant debasement by the United States of (human rights),” the conference said.
The Israeli government said that only a few hundred Soviet Jews--less than 0.5% of the total--have chosen to live in West Bank and Gaza settlements. In similar statements issued in Jerusalem and by the embassy in Washington, the government accused Arab states of using that small number “as an excuse to try to stop (all) Soviet Jewish emigration.”
The Israeli figures for settlement in the occupied territories do not include persons living in the eastern suburbs of Jerusalem on land annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. By some estimates, as many as 10% of the total number of Soviet immigrants live in formerly Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union have officially recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem.
“We have a well-defined policy,” Avi Pazner, Shamir’s spokesman, said in Jerusalem. “We do not send (Soviet Jews) and do not encourage them to settle in the territories. We leave them complete freedom of choice. It’s a free country. We will make a special effort to explain to Mr. Gorbachev that this is not a problem. It is an illusion.”
About 40,000 Soviet citizens have moved to Israel since the beginning of this year. The number of Jews allowed to emigrate has been increasing steadily since Moscow first eased the restrictions in 1988.
Soviet immigration is expected to pick up steam this summer as transit through Finland and Poland expands. Officials in Israel estimate that 20,000 newcomers will arrive monthly starting in July. Upwards of 150,000 are expected to settle in Israel by year’s end.
In all, 70,000 Israelis live in the occupied territories. The Shamir government recently approved at least four new settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. In January, Shamir told members of his Likud Party that the occupied land was needed to make room for the expected wave of Soviet immigrants.
In response to Arab pressure, Moscow earlier suspended plans for direct flights to Israel, requiring emigrants to change planes in third countries.
Times staff writer Daniel Williams, in Jerusalem, contributed to this story.