Israelis on West Bank beginning to feel uneasy


KARNEI SHOMRON, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- Walking past faded wall posters of right-wing parties defeated in Israel's recent election, Moshe Weizman acknowledged that he felt queasy about his future in this settlement sprawling along a chain of rocky, tree-studded hills.

"I worry that I'll be left with nothing," Mr. Weizman said.

In Jewish settlements across the West Bank, residents have been jolted by the change in Israel's politics, and must now digest the new reality. After enjoying favored status for more than a decade under governments led by the right-wing Likud Party, the settlers face an erosion of state support and the prospect of Palestinian autonomy.

Israel's new government, led by the Labor Party, has started curbing construction here and in other Jewish communities in the occupied territories, and has promised quicker movement in the Middle East peace talks.

Many of the 110,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have begun anxiously speculating about the shape of proposed Palestinian self-government.

"I had a premonition, so a month prior to the elections I decided against buying a lot to build a house," said Mr. Weizman, who lives in an apartment.

A manager in an electronics company in a neighboring settlement, Mr. Weizman said he moved to Karnei Shomron from Tel Aviv seven years ago and found improved housing, good weather and better education for his children. Now he wonders whether he might have to give all this up some day.

"I try to take it one day at a time, without letting it bother me," he said. "My wife talks about leaving because she feels the government has abandoned us, but I try to calm her down. I'm in a holding pattern right now."

The Labor-led government recently announced that it had scrapped plans to build 5,713 housing units in the occupied territories and halted work on 1,855 others in preliminary building stages. Land allocation for private construction has been suspended.

The government has stopped construction of 10 roads serving settlements, halted investment grants for Israeli industries in the territories and moved to cancel a range of loans, tax breaks and other incentives.

[The Associated Press quoted Israel radio as saying yesterday the new government also has asked Jewish settlers to repay $2.3 million in interest-free loans to buy Arab homes in east Jerusalem.]

At Karnei Shomron, a community of 5,000 in the northern West Bank area also known as Samaria, Mayor Gaby Botbol said building of more than 400 housing units had been suspended. Work on a new synagogue has been stalled for lack of government funds, and residents say they are concerned that they will lose state aid to build new schools, internal roads and a community center.

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