Israeli Settlers: This Land Is Ours

DIGGING INTO WEST BANK

JAY SHAPIRO, a religious Jew who emigrated to Israel from Philadelphia 25 years ago, is about as close as you could come to the average settler.

His accent reflects the preponderance of American voices heard among activists leading a campaign aimed at halting talks between the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders on the extension of Palestinian self-rule to the West Bank.

Mr. Shapiro travels daily from his comfortable suburban home in this picturesque settlement to his job about 25 miles away at Israel Aircraft Industries, adjacent to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport.

Ginot Shomrom - one of three hilltop settlements - is located in the heart of what Shapiro calls Judea and Samaria - the Jews' religious name for the area.

Shapiro says he is contributing to Jewish continuity by living in part of what he and most of the 135,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank regard as land given to the Jews by God.

But he has also grown attached to a lifestyle that is far removed from the bustle of life in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - and far more affordable.

Shapiro's biggest concern is the prospect of armed Palestinian police replacing some of the Israeli soldiers who have acted as a buffer between the settlers and their resentful Palestinian neighbors for the past two decades.

But in 1992, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin - in the early stages of Middle East peace talks - promised to freeze the expansion of politically motivated settlements like this one in the interests of reaching a deal with Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Since then, Mr. Rabin has increasingly portrayed the settlers as a burden tying down large numbers of Israeli soldiers. But their numbers have continued to grow, albeit at a slower pace.

Under the 1993 Israel-PLO accord, the future of the settlers will be determined only in final status negotiations due to begin next May.

But their presence in the midst of an emerging Palestinian state remains a focus of conflict and a reminder to the Palestinians of the limitations on their autonomy.

Since the settlers began occupying new hilltops in the West Bank last week, Rabin has described their actions as ''ridiculous provocation'' and vowed to apply the law.

But he is also involved in a dialogue with settler leaders in a bid to win their cooperation. After a brief weekend truce, the settlers continued their protest actions this week.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres angered the settlers by saying that their latest action will merely strengthen the resolve of Israeli negotiators to reach a final agreement on the phased withdrawal of Israeli soldiers ahead of the first Palestinian elections.

Mr. Peres has even raised the future prospect of Jewish settlements continuing under Palestinian rule just as about 1 million Israeli Arabs live in Israel with citizenship and voting rights.

This is a prospect that is unthinkable for Shapiro, father of four children who live on the West Bank. ''I came to Israel out of a strong sense of Jewish identity,'' Shapiro says.

He is convinced that the future of Israel is intertwined with the future of the Jewish settlements, and he seethes with anger when Rabin describes the settlers as a ''burden.'' ''It is Rabin who made a terrible blunder. He made a deal with the wrong guy [Arafat]. The Arab world is not prepared to accept our existence.''

He argues that without the West Bank as a territorial buffer to thwart new attacks by neighboring Arab countries another war between the Jews and the Arabs is inevitable. ''I would not deny an Arab his privileges and rights as a human being. But one thing I won't allow is sovereignty.

''I won't have him rule over me because the Arabs will be in the majority, and we will be in the minority. And they will destroy us. This is the only homeland we have,'' Shapiro says.

He says he does not lose sleep over the prospect of being evacuated from his settlement because he does not believe that any Israeli government would be able to remove the settlers and survive politically. ''But I do lose sleep about meeting Palestinian police on the road to work,'' he adds.

He is also convinced that the peace accord is doomed. ''Even if we are forced to evacuate the settlements, it will not make for a lasting peace. The Arabs are not just interested in the West Bank. Their real goal is Jerusalem and the whole of Israel.''

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