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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 3 of 6)

But it does Moti. After studying journalism, he's been working as an aide to a Knesset member from the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu Party. The party's leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, also happens to live in a settlement. (Moti didn't vote for them, but cast his ballot for another right-wing party.)

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"I don't go to demonstrations; I don't believe in them," says Moti, who identifies himself as a right-wing moderate.

"And it's hard for me to believe that they'll evacuate any of us, or that a Palestinian state is ever going to be formed," he says. "I don't think the Palestinians have the ability to run a state now, as divided as they are. And if an Israeli leader came home from negotiations with such a plan, I don't think there will be enough of a majority for it to pass in the Knesset. There's no political solution: We'll say it's all our land, they'll say it's all theirs, and we'll never get anywhere."

Outside, his street looks like a planned community anywhere: the look-alike homes with the perfect coat of paint, and the bare yard awaiting landscaping. Then the street gives way to unfinished houses in progress that Peace Now – a left-wing Israeli group that keeps a vigilant eye on settlement growth – says have been built illegally. Moti, though, is not worried; he thinks the courts will reject Peace Now's petition to have 15 of these houses destroyed.

"I had three priorities in choosing where to live," he explains. "The first was finding a good place to bring up kids. The second was financial. Third comes ideology," he says. "It's in that order. To think of only one of these is not the right approach to life. It's a mixed salad. But I'm also concerned that Vered be happy. I think she will be."

Vered, a cosmetician and manicurist, raises her shaped eyebrows and doesn't answer. It's time to pick up Ishai.

OF 7.4 MILLION ISRAELI CITIZENS, the West Bank's 300,000 settlers constitute 2.4 percent of the overall population. Settlement leaders say more would move in if they could find the housing. Their critics inside Israel see other reasons to stay away. Why move one's family to an area where one seems more likely to be a target of violence from the neighboring population – one that views you as a legitimate target of the occupation? Why put yourself in a reality where you have to pass through checkpoints as a matter of daily life? And who would sign up for the possibility of being forced out and made homeless by one's own government – as 8,000 Gazan settlers were in 2005 – as part of a political decision?

Ideology was what brought the first waves of settlers into the land Israel captured on the west bank of the Jordan River in the 1967 war, some of them keen to return to earlier settlements they'd lost in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel's establishment. In the early 1970s, a socioreligious movement called Gush Emunim, or bloc of the faithful, drew to settlements people motivated by the concept that Israel's success in 1967 was divinely inspired, that the Jewish people's return to their biblical homeland signaled the coming of the messianic age. While that worldview continues to attract some, the majority of today's new arrivals come primarily for practical considerations.