Mayor David Koplovitch, bald-headed, tieless, and garrulous, presides over this Israeli settlement of more than 1,800 people with the seen-it-before pragmatism of a veteran politician.
But Mr. Koplovitch is dismayed that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, long the patron of Jewish settlement of Palestinian lands, has offered his qualified acceptance of a US-backed peace plan, known as the road map, that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip within three years.
"That's been a shock," says the mayor, sitting in an office decorated with pictures of hard-line Israeli leaders, including three of Mr. Sharon. Implementation of the road map is likely to mean the end of Maale Efraim, which sits on a plateau in the West Bank that rises out of the Jordan Valley.
For years, leftist Israelis have said the Palestinians should establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza. "Now it comes from the man who took care of us, who brought us here," says Koplovitch, referring to Sharon. "He made a 180-degree turn - it's much more frightening."
Sharon's apparent pirouette notwith- standing, change does not come fast in the Middle East.
People on both sides who have been intimately involved in the past 32 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting - Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Palestinians in the divided city of Hebron - say they don't believe the road map will solve their conflict.
In a workshop in Hebron, glass blower Mohammed Hamdan, his face glistening from the heat of his furnace, places a delicate cone of purple-tinted glass into a cooling kiln. The light shade will outlast the road map, he says. "We don't have any hope - not in the road, not in the sea, not in the air."
The Palestinian skepticism seems derived from the conviction that while the road map may lead to some temporary easing of the strife, it will not address fundamental issues such as the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and the economic viability of any state that emerges from negotiations.
Among Israelis on the right, Sharon's embrace of the road map - however conditional - seems an act of conciliation in times that properly demand a resolute defense of their interests.
For an Israeli cabinet to approve the notion of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River "gave a prize to the terrorists," says Pinchas Vallerstein, the head of a regional council that administers 35 settlements. "It gives courage to the terrorists to continue," he says.
For politicians such as Koplovitch and Mr. Vallerstein, now is the time to plan demonstrations and otherwise use politics to ensure the failure of the road map.
For other settlers, news of the road map seems like more of the same. Claudia Giareca, a Maale Efraim resident who arrived from Argentina in 1990, says she has long kept a bag packed in the expectation of leaving. "From the moment we came here, we knew it would go back one day," she says of the land on which her home is built. "You can't make plans for the future in Israel - you have to live for the moment."
Still, she works as a teacher's aide in a Hebrew language course for more-recent Argentine immigrants, and has encouraged them to come to Maale Efraim as part of an effort to expand the settlement.
Hebrew teacher Yacov Abrahamson has this to add: "I believe with all my heart that we will be here for ever and ever," he says.
While Ms. Giareca's easy-come-easy-go attitude is emblematic of settlers who have moved into the West Bank for reasons of economics and lifestyle, Mr. Abrahamson's view reflects the determination of more-religious Jews to maintain a hold on eretz Israel - a Hebrew phrase meaning the "land of Israel."
In the West Bank settlement of Shvut Rachel, a young man who gives his name only as Aryeh says "eretz Israel has a power all her own," and that those who "touch her" will fall from power. He cites former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who gave the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt, and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who allowed Palestinians to rule part of the southern West Bank city of Hebron.
"Israel is determined by the Torah," he adds, fingering one of his red sidelocks, not by what political leaders say.
In Hebron, Talal Takruri gazes up at the wreckage of his nephew Bassem's third-floor apartment. Under the tutelage of the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, Bassem engaged in a destructive act of his own - killing seven Israelis and himself in a suicide attack in mid-May. This week, Israeli forces used explosives to destroy the apartment his family rented.
"We have known Israel since 1967," says Mr. Takruri, referring to the year the Israelis seized control of the West Bank and Gaza. As for the vision of peace contained in the road map, he adds, "They don't stick to what they say. We have seen only words on paper, nothing more."
Among Palestinians in Hebron, the road map and the emergence of a Palestinian prime minister as an alternative to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat - a step demanded by the US and Israel - haven't made a huge impression.
Even if this version of the peace process succeeds, says jeweler Ghazi Herbawi, whose home was also destroyed when Israel demolished Bassem's home, "it will only be for a few years."
"The Israeli authorities manufacture many suicide bombers in these doings," he says, standing amid clumps of broken concrete and the ruins of his family's furnishings.
His son Muhannad's science project - a diagram of the solar system - lies in the wreckage. Pluto, Saturn, and the Earth are missing. "Do you think my children will forget seeing this?" he asks.