KIBBUTZ LOTAN, ISRAEL — IDO ZEVULUN did not share the euphoria that greeted the much-vaunted peace treaty between Israel and Jordan signed near here in the arid Arava Desert last week.
As President Clinton sealed the historic treaty, about 30 residents of this kibbutz took time off from sorting melons, which had to be packed by 4 p.m. that day for air-freight to a British retail chain.
They watched the signing ceremony on television as they ate lunch in the community hall, but displayed no outward signs of enthusiasm.
``Eventually, I think we will get secure borders,'' Mr. Zevulun told the Monitor. ``But I think we will go through hell for the next 10 years or so because of the Palestinian issue.''
Founded 11 years ago by the liberal Reform Movement of Judaism, Kibbutz Lotan is a communal farm adjacent to Israel's southern border with Jordan. Its 76 members and about 25 permanent visitors are, politically, almost uniformly liberal and in favor of the Israeli government's peace intitiatives.
The kibbutzniks chose this land to settle because it was within Israel's borders; they will not settle on Israeli-occupied lands, such as the West Bank or Golan Heights.
If they were unenthusiastic about the peace accord with Jordan, residents here were relieved that the politicians had reached a deal that left their kibbutz intact.
Had Jordanian negotiators gotten their way, they would have shifted the Israeli-Jordanian border westward to include 80 percent of the land and all the water on the kibbutz. The land disputes between the two countries were eventually resolved with a complex set of land swaps and lease-back arrangements.
Unlike several kibbutzim and Jewish settlers who will now be living on Jordanian land leased back to Israel, Kibbutz Lotan emerged unscathed.
But the residents here have no illusions about the long and difficult road to peace and the worsening economic problems that face them and the ailing collective-farm movement as a whole.
The modern kibbutz movement was founded in a spirit of idealistic socialism. Members pursue a reform version of Zionism, settling only on land in Israel proper. They do not have a synagogue, but perform all traditional religious ceremonies in a community center.
But the speed of peacemaking in the region has led to radical changes in the way of life of kibbutz adherents; economic difficulties, waning membership, and shifting social trends have taken their toll.
Lotan, located about 40 miles north of the booming Red Sea holiday resort of Eilat, has resisted change and remained close to the socialist and communal ideals of the movement's founding fathers.
But its residents are grappling with the realities of a changing Middle East and Israel's shifting economic priorities as it emerges from four decades of isolation.
``In one sense, we are Bedouins [desert nomads]. Living in the desert has an impact on our way of life,'' said Zevulun, an ardent member of the liberal Reform Movement in Judaism. ``Most of us ran away from the city. We wanted to live far away.''
As security manager and treasurer of the kibbutz, Zevulun and his fellow kibbutzniks broadly support efforts to achieve peace between Arabs and Jews.
But their love of the land and their communal life on the kibbutz created a conflict between their desire for peace and their vested economic and idealistic interests in Kibbutz Lotan.
``We didn't want to fight the peace process, but we wanted to defend our economic rights,'' Zevulun said.
The kibbutzniks' conflict in reconciling their economic and political ideals with the compromises of peace is not the only irony that strikes a visitor to these rural peaceniks.
Zevulun, who carries his radio pager at all times, said he will continue to sleep with an automatic rifle under his bed and take it with him when he wanders into the fields near the Jordanian border.
``I know it is now regarded as a border of peace ... but I still keep my gun under my bed,'' he said.
He recalls an incident five years ago, which is indelibly etched on the collective memory of Lotan.
An armed Palestinian militant crossed the border onto Lotan. One woman was shot and wounded, and another woman was taken hostage for more than three hours while members of the regional kibbutz antiterror unit negotiated with him.
Eventually, the terrorist asked for a copy of the Koran and emerged from the shed where he had been holding the terrified hostage.
``He came out to get the Koran, and the sniper shot him dead. That's life,'' said Zevulun, a liberal in Israel's political spectrum who is opposed to settlements and kibbutzim on Israeli-occupied land.
``I trust the Jordanians, but I mistrust Hamas,'' Zevulun said, referring to the Islamic Resistance Movement, a Palestinian group that opposes the peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Hamas has claimed responsibility for a recent wave of terror attacks, including a bus bombing in Tel Aviv and the kidnapping and ultimate killing of an Israeli soldier.
Dealing with Palestinians
Hamas is bent on wrecking the year-old Israeli-PLO accord and rejects the Israel-Jordan peace treaty as a sell-out of the Palestinian cause.
``I don't know what to think of the Palestinians,'' Zevulun said. ``We were taught that they were nonexistent. Now I know they exist, but they are not an entity yet ... and I don't know how they will solve the problem with Hamas.''
Since the signing, fears regarding security have replaced the earlier anxiety of Lotan's members about losing their land.
To ensure that their land did not become a political bargaining chip, the regional representatives of some 2,500 Israelis who live in the Arava lobbied government negotiators and publicized their demands in the Israeli media.
``Any change in the border would have meant a drastic change in our way of life,'' Zevulun said.
Lotan branches out
In recent years, the kibbutz has expanded beyond its agricultural base by starting a metal shop and branching into educational tourism in a bid to make ends meet.
More of those residents with professions - lawyers, doctors, and social workers - work outside the kibbutz in Eilat or Tel Aviv to supplement the communal income.
``We are very relieved that the accord left Lotan as it is,'' Zevulun said. ``But we are still stuck with our economic problems that come from living off agriculture.''
He said that there was little hope that the peace accord would lead to the economic revitilization of the area.
``There is still no chance of any enterprise being built here. It will all go to Eilat and the Jordan Valley,'' he said, referring to the popular Red Sea holiday resort 40 miles south of here.
``We have to fact the fact: The Arava is not high on the priority list.''