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West Bank settlements become havens of Israeli surburbanites

Growth driven less by ideology than by middle-class economics could strain peace talks.

(Page 2 of 6)

It is not necessarily the well-armed ideologues who have characterized the settlement movement over the years. The bulk of settlers today, according to various surveys, come mostly for economic or "lifestyle" reasons.

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About 30 percent of those are ultra-Orthodox Jews for whom the primary goal is living in an affordable religious com-munity, irrespective of whether it lies beyond the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 borders. New immigrants, such as Americans and those from the former Soviet Union, make up a smaller portion.

Generally most don't like to be called settlers because, as one settlement council head says, settlers have been made out to be the world's "pariahs." But they might agree to be called the new settlers, if the word were to be used in the most positive sense, as in the early American pioneers.

With the West Bank in Israel's hands for 42 years, many middle-of-the-road Israelis see little reason not to move there – particularly to long-established, larger settlements, or those close to the Green Line.

They're educated, often upper-middle-class, and not exclusively from right-wing backgrounds. They're more likely to be armed with an iPod than an Uzi. And unlike the settlers who tend to grab headlines, they're not interested in using force or violence to stop another evacuation of settlements, largely expected to be a feature of any Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.

But why take the risk of investing in a home on disputed territory? Among other reasons, settlers are bearish on the prospects of the peace process leading anywhere soon – if ever.

"THIS AREA IS NOT LIKELY TO EVER BE EVACUATED," says Moti Ovadiah, who moved to Kiryat Netafim a year ago, shortly after his wife, Vered, gave birth to their son, Ishai.

Kiryat Netafim, tucked into a comely, mountainous area – from which the Tel Aviv skyline is visible – is next to the settlement of Barkan and its large industrial park.

It's a sleepy area with little tension between the Jewish settlement and neighboring Palestinians villages, whose men work in Barkan. The community of 100-plus families identifies itself as a national-religious community – a stream of Israeli society that includes serving in the army and participating in the larger political and social fabric – making them distinct from most ultra-Orthodox.

And the price is right: The Ovadiahs paid $292,000 for a 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom home. A comparable property would cost at least triple in any of the outlying Tel Aviv neighborhoods where Moti and Vered both grew up.

"It's a settlement lite," Moti says somewhat jokingly. "It's not like moving to East Jerusalem, to the heart of an Arab neighborhood, or into Hebron. We heard a lot of positive things about the area, came and looked, and just really loved it."

Vered is less in love. She's not quite as enthusiastic about the location of her new home, mostly because – 20 miles from Tel Aviv and one checkpoint from the Green Line – it feels too far from the center of the country. Her own mother, who still lives in a Tel Aviv suburb and is concerned about the safety of the area, avoids visiting. Likewise, some friends won't visit.

"But everyone loves the whole bit about the big house and the yard, and the magical view," Vered says, looking at her watch and then down the slope toward the nursery where she's due to pick up Ishai in a few minutes. She's pregnant with their second child. "I just want to live my life," she shrugs. "Ideology doesn't interest me."