Some Israeli settlers accept idea of leaving


JERUSALEM -- While the more outspoken Israeli settlers on the West Bank dig in their heels and vow never to leave, even if they're gradually surrounded by a Palestinian state, a few tentative voices of accommodation have begun to speak up.

"I think the peace process is bigger than the settlements," says Viktor Yonah, who for a year has lived with his wife in Adam, a settlement of about 100 families a few miles northeast of Jerusalem. "I've spoken to other families here. We've talked about what we would do if there was Palestinian autonomy in the region, and I think at least 40 families would be willing to move if the proper arrangements and compensation could be provided. The reason I came here was for social reasons, not for political or ideological reasons."

Mr. Yonah first talked about his concerns last week at a local Labor Party meeting, and when an Israeli radio reporter overheard and broadcast his sentiments, it set off a minor stir in Adam.

Beber Va'ananu, who as secretary of the settlement is Adam's unofficial mayor, quickly derided Mr. Yonah as an opportunist seeking to cash in, personally and politically, on the uncertainty resulting from the peace agreement. The agreement would turn over control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho to the Palestinians, an idea that has jarred the nerves of the more than 120,000 settlers in the occupied territories.

"It hasn't even entered anyone's head that Adam would ever be evacuated," Mr. Va'ananu said. "This is just a gimmick to try and see what he can get out of it for himself."

But judging from the arguments and discussions on the streets of Adam, Mr. Yonah is hardly alone, in either his fears or in his hopes for a better deal through evacuation.

One argument began Sunday afternoon as parents arrived to pick up their children at Adam's kindergarten. Rena Patihi and her friend Shoshana Amstel frowned in disapproval as they discussed Mr. Yonah's remarks.

"Most of the people here wouldn't move," Ms. Patihi said. She pointed out that Mr. Yonah is relatively new to the settlement and still lives in a mobile home. "He has nothing to lose; he is selling us out."

A nearby woman overheard and began shaking her head. "He's not selling us out," she said, her voice rising. "If compensation was offered, everyone in the neighborhood would take it. It would be very frightening to live under Palestinian autonomy, because we are a small settlement and we cannot live independently."

The shaky assumption in such conversations is that the government will order, or even want, evacuations. So far, government officials haven't mentioned the possibility of either evacuations or compensation. Construction on new settlements continues, and the government has vowed that all settlements, even those in the vulnerable southern tip of the Gaza Strip, will be protected under the terms of the peace agreement.

Settlers forcibly evacuated from the Sinai peninsula after Israel gave back that land under the terms of the 1979 Camp David peace treaty with Egypt were compensated generously. But since then, the government has tightened the terms for any such future arrangements. For one thing, settlers would only be guaranteed the original value of their homes, a change made to prevent speculators from cashing in. Evacuees would also be obligated to pay off their mortgages, a provision that was set after some of the Sinai evacuees were about to avoid paying theirs.

But the tough terms don't stop the speculation, and some people from Adam think it might someday be worthwhile to move, if only the government will help.

Danny Dahan, one of the founding settlers of the decade- old community, said, "I have spoken with five or six families who want to leave now that the possibility of Palestinian autonomy has come up."

Mr. Dahan, who lived first in a tent and then in a trailer before finally moving into a house three years ago, said some residents are already unhappy with living conditions in the neighborhood and already feel a bit hemmed in by hostile forces.

Granted, Adam is not an ideological settlement, and one would expect its residents to more readily relocate.

But similar sentiments -- and similar debate -- can be found even among the zealots of such settlements as Mitzpeh Jericho, a religious community overlooking the ancient West Bank town of Jericho, where the peace proposal calls for Palestinian autonomy to begin.

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