For some Israeli settlers, suburban life is goal

Micha Dori said that he and his wife, Ora, and their children would uproot quietly from their home in the West Bank settlement of Barkan, if needed, for the sake of peace.
Dan Balilty/Associated Press
Micha Dori said that he and his wife, Ora, and their children would uproot quietly from their home in the West Bank settlement of Barkan, if needed, for the sake of peace.

BARKAN, West Bank — Micha Drori is living the Israeli dream: a house, a yard, a wife, and three kids. The 42-year-old businessman has found an affordable alternative to Israel’s booming real estate market in a quiet community he loves, with a commute of less than half an hour to his job near Tel Aviv.

What’s the catch? He’s a West Bank settler.

The fate of Jewish settlements took center stage this week with the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state. In contrast to the prevailing image of settlers as gun-toting religious zealots, the majority are in fact middle-of-the-road pragmatists seeking quality of life. Many shun the settler ideology and say they will uproot quietly, if needed, for the sake of peace.


‘‘We will not sit here and burn tires if the government will tell us to leave. We will just leave,’’ Drori said. ‘‘When the proper solution will be found I don’t believe that something will stop it like settlements. Houses can be moved . . . I don’t think the settlements are a problem.’’

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For the Palestinians, though, the settlements are a huge problem. They seek a state that includes the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war. The Palestinians, and most of the international community, consider any settlements built beyond the 1967 borders to be illegal land grabs.

For five years, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to engage in talks while settlement construction continued. As talks finally got underway this week, the Palestinians threatened to walk away again after Israel announced plans to build 3,000 new apartments.

In all, Israel has built dozens of settlements since 1967 that are now home to about 550,000 Israelis. Settlements dot the West Bank, the heartland of a future Palestine, and ring East Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital, making it ever more difficult to partition the land between two states.

While religious Jews, attracted to the West Bank because of its biblical significance, pioneered the settler movement four decades ago, the settlements today have expanded into a more accurate reflection of Israeli society. The profile of a settler can vary from a suburban Jerusalemite to a nonpartisan, ultra-Orthodox seminary student to a commuting high-tech executive to a socialist farmer in the Jordan Valley.


Drori, for instance, is secular and never imagined living outside central Israel. But he has found a home in Barkan, an upscale settlement of nearly 400 families with a vibrant community center. From his backyard Drori has a clear view of the Mediterranean coast.

‘‘The air is nice, the weather is good, the view is wonderful. I think this is most of the reason that people come here,’’ he said.

About a third of all West Bank settlers could be defined as ‘‘ideological,’’ according to Yariv Oppenheimer, director of the antisettlement watchdog group Peace Now. He said these settlers, the driving force behind the settlement enterprise, are politically active and tend to live in the more outlying areas, often closer to Palestinian villages and ancient Jewish religious sites.

The rest are ‘‘economic’’ settlers who take advantage of the benefits available to live a higher quality of life than they could have afforded in Israel proper. While these settlers tend to still hold hawkish political positions, they are not as hard-core over territorial compromise.

Many of the economic settlers would evacuate quietly in return for fair compensation, but likely won’t have to because they are within the major blocs Israel would probably keep in a land-swap deal.


Even if the current talks can reach a similar understanding, most experts believe that more than 100,000 settlers in outlying communities would have to be evacuated. It won’t be easy. Settlers have vowed to put up more of a fight under any West Bank withdrawal than they did to the 2005 evacuation of 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said distinctions between settlers and their various motivations could be taken into consideration during negotiations. Regardless, she said they were all part of the problem.

‘‘They are all illegal and people will find any rationalization to explain why they are there,’’ she said. ‘‘If anyone has any sense of justice, they would understand that they are living on other peoples’ lands. . . . You are all contributing to sabotaging peace.’’