Jewish Settlers Feel Betrayed by Autonomy, Plan Protests With AM-Israel-Palestinians
NAAMA, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ Uri Vaknin bit into a plump tomato from his crop - the first since he opened two automated greenhouses six months ago.
As Palestinian autonomy draws near his front gate, he fears the crop may be his last.
Settlers of Naama and other Jewish farms in the Jordan Valley feel betrayed by a tentative autonomy agreement reached with the PLO that will turn Naama into an isolated bubble in the seat of the future Palestinian administration.
″Our future is hanging like a leaf in the wind,″ said Matav Rosenblum, dangling her 8-month-old daughter on her knee.
Meeting in the clubhouse Friday, the settlers vented their anger and warned they would block roads and riot against the peace plan if Israel’s leaders don’t meet with them over the weekend.
″We need to riot because in Israel only those who riot are heard,″ Rosenblum said.
Located just 2 1/2 miles north of Jericho, Naama’s 27 families feel they are the test case for the future of the other Jewish settlements under Palestinian self-rule.
″We are like soldiers on the front line. It doesn’t stop with 27 families. If we are isolated it is the beginning of the end of secure borders for Israel,″ said Lior Hason, a mother of three.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has vowed not to uproot any Jewish settlement during the next five-year transition period of Palestinian self-rule in the occupied lands.
But Israel has agreed to hand over to the Palestinians 22 square miles around Jericho - an area that surrounds Naama. The Palestinians are demanding at least 80 square miles.
″All of our bad dreams are coming true,″ said Yonatan Dotan, a bearded grape farmer. ″If Rabin tells me I will have to send my children to school through the autonomy zones then maybe I’ll get up and leave.″
The Palestine Liberation Organization expects the self-rule accord to culminate in an independent state in all the occupied territories and Arab east Jerusalem, areas seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The PLO wants all Jewish settlements eventually removed.
Openly, Jewish families say they will stay put. But privately some have already made arrangements for sending their wives and children away and become commuter settlers - working their farms by day and living elsewhere.
Others say the settlers are holding out for large compensations from the government, like those paid to the Israeli settlers in the Sinai when Israel handed it back to Egypt in 1982.
Most of the 5,000 residents who live in 23 settlements in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley are secular and supporters of Rabin’s Labor party. They don’t hold the biblical attachment to the land as the other Jewish settlers in the heart of the West Bank, and settled there to establish a security buffer along the Jordanian border.
Ishai Ben-Tzedek from nearby kibbutz Gilgal advised the residents of Naama to leave, since their role as a civilian buffer was no longer valid.
″Your mission is over,″ he told the meeting. ″If I were living here I’d think there is nothing left to stay for.″
Many settlers say they will leave when Palestinian autonomy takes effect.
Vaknin, loading tomato plant leaves onto a wheelbarrow, said he would be among those to stay put to protect his $150,000 investment.
″If I plant a vine I don’t expect to uproot it,″ said Vaknin. ″I haven’t even begun to get a return on my investment.″