Yet another Israeli settlement pops up on West Bank

April 25, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

REVAVA, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- It was midmorning yesterday when Menashe Vachnish and his wife became noticeable factors in Middle East politics.

By midmorning, their furniture and dozens of boxes were unloaded from a moving van and were being carried into a mobile home on a rocky hilltop. The Vachnish family had become the latest Israeli West Bank settlers.

The Vachnishes were thrilled. Instead of being in their crowded apartment in a suburb of Tel Aviv, they overlook a valley of green fields handsomely lit by the sun. They praised the sunshine, fresh air, their neighbors and their community-to-be, no matter that the outpost called Revava is a controversial site.

"A beautiful place," said Mr. Vachnish, 29, a lawyer. "We wanted to do something that we think will serve the country, so we're here."

Revava is a product of the turmoil within Israel's right-wing government and the anxieties caused by Secretary of State James A. Baker III and his efforts to organize regional peace talks.

As Mr. Baker continues his shuttle diplomacy, settlement leaders and sympathetic Cabinet ministers have sought to rule out Israel's giving up control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the method they favor for sending messages is to create facts on the ground.

Revava is one such fact. Bulldozers began cutting a road through the hillside not long before one of Mr. Baker's scheduled visits to Israel. Trucks brought in mobile homes while Palestinian workers prepared concrete foundations and connected the trailers to temporary water supplies and tanks of propane gas.

Their work was done without public notice and was completed two days before Mr. Baker's arrival. There was one more settlement, another potential subject for negotiations, and housing one more group of Israelis who would have strong personal reasons to oppose Israel's lessening its control over the area.

Ministers have debated ever since if and when the government approved Revava, with Housing Minister Ariel Sharon assuring his supporters that an ambitious program for expanding settlements was under way. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has stayed silent.

Mr. Baker said in Damascus, Syria, that he was "very disappointed" by the news of another settlement. "That points up very visibly," he said, that "it is easier to obstruct peace than to promote peace."

Revava leaders insist the new area is merely an expansion of an existing settlement.

Mr. Sharon's Housing Ministry is using cash and other incentive to promote settlements. Left-wing members of parliament report that the government has begun making mortgages cheaper for Israelis moving to the West Bank than for those within Israel proper, and that they are investing disproportionately more in services for settlers.

According to its latest budget, the ministry is spending about 20 percent of its funds in the territories on behalf of 100,000 settlers, or 2 percent of Israel's population. About $30 million has been earmarked for trailers and another $180 million for apartments and houses.

Mr. Sharon's critics say his budget eventually will bring large numbers of Soviet immigrants to the West Bank.

"The houses in the settlements are almost free, and in a short time the immigrants will have no choice but to accept this present," said Dedi Zucker of the Citizens Rights Party. "Immigrants who will be looking for a cheap home will have no alternative."

Mr. Vachnish meanwhile is convinced his move helps his country. He sees no difference between his settling Revava and the early Zionists who settled Tel Aviv.

"We wanted to do something that we think will serve the country," he said. "We wanted to do something where we would be felt, and there'snothing like being first settlers."

Ten days old, Revava has 11 trailers, concrete foundations for four more, a day-care center, a sandbox and the accessories of daily life, including baby carriages, laundry lines and brick patios. It already looks and feels like home for the residents, andthey sound convinced they will never have to leave.

"If this settlement obstructs peace, and if and when there will be a decision that I have to leave, I'll act accordingly," Mr. Vachnish said. "I hope this is only a hypothetical situation, and that it doesn't happen."

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