West Bank settlements become havens of Israeli surburbanites
Growth driven less by ideology than by middle-class economics could strain peace talks.
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"Around 1981, many Israelis started moving out for better housing and the general environment – quality-of-life settlers – and that represents the majority who are coming now," says Michael Feige, a sociologist and anthropologist at Ben-Gurion University and author of the recently published "Settling in the Hearts: Jewish Fundamentalism in the Occupied Territories."Skip to next paragraph
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"Economically, it's a good deal to go to the settlements. It always has been," he says. But whereas moving to a settlement once meant living a slightly more precarious existence, it's now becoming a largely safe, suburban one. Settlements in commuting distance to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are particularly popular.
"There are places where the metropolis is moving east," says Professor Feige. So settlements feel so close for commuters that "people moving there don't think they're moving to the West Bank."
More recently, he points out, even ultra-Orthodox Israelis have been moving to settlements for economic reasons more than for ideological ones. The two largest settlements in the West Bank are now Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit, ultra-Orthodox minicities where growth last year was 9.3 percent and 8 percent respec-tively.
This brings with it a shift in how settlements figure in the Israeli psyche. "The ideological tension today is much lower than it was 20 or 30 years ago," notes Feige, "[when] it threw the whole future of Zionism and Israel's raison d'être into question. And today, it's seen as just one issue. After so many years of arguing on the subject, Israelis are tired of it."
What's more, says Ephraim Yaar, a pollster and analyst at Tel Aviv University, Israelis feel less certain about whether pulling out of the territory brings peace – particularly after the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, followed by a rain of low-tech Palestinian rockets on southern Israel.
"[T]his had a profound effect, including on those on the Israeli left. There is a hardening of the position of Israelis, undoubtedly related to what happened in Gaza," Professor Yaar says. And yet, when questioned about the bigger picture, the majority of Israelis, he notes, support a two-state solution, along with the concomitant expectations of settlement evacuations. "Broadly, the Israeli public would be willing to evacuate all the settlements that are outside a major block, provided the Palestinians would reciprocate."
Tel Aviv University's latest War & Peace Index, released Sept. 8, found that 72 percent of Israelis believe the need to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "very urgent or moderately urgent."
AND SO, AS THE CONFLICT CHURNS, people get married, have kids, start nesting. To the Ovadiah, Allon, and Cohen families, the politics of where to live was secondary to space, affordability, and being close to family. Buying homes in the settlement of Kiryat Netafim in the northern West Bank (known in Israel as Samaria) or in Tekoa in the southern West Bank (known as Judea) became a logical decision for them – not a radical one.