The dream of a Jewish West Bank
Jerusalem — Zev Ben Yosef has a dream. He dreams that within 30 years more than 1.3 million Jews will have returned to settle the major historic sites of biblical Israel within Judea and Samaria.
It does not disturb him that in addition to 720,000 Palestinian residents many people at home and abroad still call those areas the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and dispute Israeli claims. Nor does it worry him that even many Israelis call his dream ''ridiculous.''
For Zev Ben Yosef, a slim, dark-haired man who works hard and is visibly proud of what he does, is in that rare position of being a dreamer who can help lay the concrete foundations for his vision. As deputy to Matitiyahu Drobles, the head of the settlement department of the World Zionist Organization, whose name is affixed to three long-term government plans for West Bank settlement, Mr. Ben Yosef exudes confidence that his dream can be achieved.
Whether or not he is right will have major significance in the ''demographic struggle'' being waged between Jews and Arabs on the West Bank.
The greater the number of Jewish settlers on the West Bank, the Israeli government believes, the more irreversible its permanent rule by Israel and the easier the control over its Arab inhabitants. Prof. Yuval Ne'eman, acting head of the Ministerial Committee on Settlement of the Israeli Cabinet, comments, ''Our effort in colonizing Judea and Samaria (biblical names for the West Bank) . . . is to create as soon as possible the fact that there is no place for a Palestinian Arab state.''
The third and most ambitious Drobles plan - tacitly if not formally approved by the Israeli government, according to Mr. Ben Yosef - calls for the establishment of another 57 settlements of various kinds on the West Bank by 1987. That will bring to 165 the total number of settlements on the West Bank. Almost 20 of the proposed 57 have already been approved, the Drobles aide says.
The plan also calls for the Jewish population on the West Bank to reach parity with the projected Palestinian population by the year 2010. The plan projects a population of 1.3 million Jews by that time. At present there are roughly 30,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank. The plan predicts that the total Jewish population in Israel and the occupied territories will have reached 6.1 million by that time, up from about 3.3 million now, through natural increase alone.
Mr. Ben Yosef says these figures are projected from data compiled by the Israel Bureau of Statistics. (He notes, ''They are more careful than us.'')
But the statistics bureau's senior official, Prof. Uziel Schmelz, provides very different numbers. Based on expectations of a declining Israeli Jewish birthrate and a slowdown in world Jewish immigration to Israel, he forecasts 4. 25 million Jews in Israel by the end of the century. That would be far short of the 6.1 million Mr. Ben Yosef estimates by 2010.
From a demographic standpoint, Professor Schmelz is dubious that 1.3 million of these Jews will be living on the West Bank. ''It would require either large scale aliyah (immigration of Jews to Israel) or large-scale transfer of Jews from established centers in Israel,'' he says.
The numbers are unlikely to come from aliyah. Since the establishment of the Jewish state, the total number of immigrants has been 1.7 million. Present aliyah is at a standstill. Only about 10,000 immigrants entered Israel in 1982. It is also difficult to predict how many Israeli citizens will leave the country: The 1982 net outflow was about 8,600.
Professor Schmelz cautions, ''It is impossible to predict (future) Jewish migrations'' and whether Jewish communities in delicate political situations such as the Soviet Union or Argentina will ultimately choose - or in the Soviet case once more be allowed - to move in large numbers to Israel.
As for internal migration, Professor Schmelz observes that moving 1.3 million people to the West Bank is the equivalent of relocating most of the population of greater Tel Aviv, the largest Israeli city.
Such statistical cautions do not faze Zev Ben Yosef. ''When Drobles first said it was possible to establish 60 settlements on the West Bank, people thought it was impossible,'' he says impatiently. The reference is to the first Drobles plan in 1978. That plan focused on establishment of small outposts populated by ideological devotees to the religious and nationalist cause of resettling key sites in Judaism's biblical history.
The second Drobles plan in 1981 aimed to amass population on the West Bank. It relied on private contractors who were handed what were defined as West Bank state lands at 5 percent of their value by the Israeli government. The plan was to establish suburban belts abutting Israeli metropolises to which young Israeli couples could be lured by bargain prices.
The use of private contractors cut down on the need for government investment and sped up the building process. The aim: 100,000 settlers in five years, by 1986.
With 30,000 settlers in place after three years of the plan, it is not possible to say with certainty now whether and when the plan will meet its goals. Israeli officials have been quoting the same 30,000 figure for months and predicting it would soon shoot upward as flats under construction were occupied. Even that 30,000 figure is only an estimate, and statistics bureau officials believe it is lower.
Mr. Ben Yosef says the plan has already succeeded. He lists 6,000 housing units already occupied, another 7,000 soon to be occupied - many before the fall school term - and 12,000 in various stages of construction and due to be finished by 1986. When all are filled, they will house 130,000 Jews, he says.
Indeed, a tour of the West Bank provides views of rapidconstruction of as yet unoccupied sections of existing settlements, as well as brand new Jewish townships that are scheduled to start receiving residents this fall.
Efrat, boasting hundreds of stone villas with red tile roofs and set dramatically on a hilltop 25 minutes south of Jerusalem, is scheduled to house many new American emigrants. Emmanuel, in the northern half of the West Bank, will welcome Orthodox Jews moving from the crowded religious suburbs of Tel Aviv into an initial 1,000 townhouses and low-rise apartments. Ariel, slated one day to be a major city in the West Bank, boasts an elaborate, as-yet-unsettled villa quarter with dramatic views and nouveau riche styles ranging from classical Greek to ultramodern.
There are some whispers of discontent among nonideological settlers in large new settlement suburbs like Maale Adumim, a vast complex of apartment blocks with desert views, 15 minutes from Jerusalem, who moved in because of bargain housing prices.
A former resident of a collective farm, who would not give her name, said she moved her family there because it was all they could afford. She admitted, ''I feel terrible here now. I hadn't thought of the political aspect, but when you live in Maale Adumim you are part of the government's policy which I oppose.''
But other residents said bluntly that they could not afford to think about politics and were living there because it was the best bargain on housing they could find. And it may take years before it becomes clear whether the settlement develops as a community.
There are widespread rumors that apartments in some settlements are not selling quickly. But Ben Yosef says demand is greater than supply. Are problems of security on Arab roads scaring off buyers? ''Not at all,'' he says. And anyway bulldozers are busy building bypasses so settlers can avoid Arab villages.
Even with the ground laid for implementation of the ''100,000 plan,'' the grandiose third Drobles plan will require massive funding as well as mass Jewish immigration.
Mr. Ben Yosef explains the strategy. To encourage people in the center of the country to move east into the West Bank, the plan calls for severe restriction of government investment in construction or infrastructure all along the waist of the country from Hadera north of Tel Aviv to Gadera to its south.
Instead, the budget for roads, electricity, water, communications, and industry for those areas is already being channelled to development of West Bank settlements. For example, according to the Israeli press, 7 percent of the current Communications Ministry budget will go to installing West Bank phones for settlers, (in Israel proper new subscribers can wait years for a phone) and 240 additional miles of West Bank roads will be built to improve access to settlements.
The director of national planning for Israel's Egged Bus Cooperative, which serves all major cities, Ya'acov Granek, pointed out that Egged has run lines for years that ''can be called political lines for they are not at all economically viable.''
Ta'anan Weeitz, co-chairman of the Jewish Agency's settlement department and an opponent of massive West Bank settlement, charged that the current crisis in Israel's semi-cooperative farming system is due to the government's ''diversion of 80 percent of the country's development budget to Judea and Samaria.''
The government has created industrial parks in the major new West Bank Jewish urban settlements and subsidizes small private industry in many rural settlements. But more than half the settlers still commute to work in Israel proper.
The exact cost of West Bank settlement programs is difficult to calculate, since it is buried within the budgets of several ministries, including the military. Supporters and opponents throw figures around with abandon.
On Nov. 29, the Israeli press reported that Deputy Minister of Agriculture Michael Dekel, a key figure in settlement work, told the Knesset (parliament) Economic Committee that every Jewish family settled in the West Bank costs from 4 to 5 million shekels. At current exchange rates that would work out to about $ 90,000 per family, or $630 million for roughly 7,000 families.
Mr. Ben Yosef says these figures are too high. But he confirms reports that required government finance for the third Drobles plan is an annual 12 billion Israeli shekels ($240 million), including transfers from development funds for central Israel.
Next: Is Arab-Jewish coexistance possible?