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Israeli settlers watching, wary of Palestinian UN bid

09-21-2011 11:19 BJT

by Dave Bender, Gur Salomon

JERUSALEM, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations General Assembly in New York is preparing for the prospect of recognizing an independent Palestinian state in parts or all the territories that Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are both due to address the world body on Friday.

Tensions along the East River in New York are running high as negotiators from both sides, with U.S. and Quartet help, try to hammer out a negotiated compromise before then.

Whatever the outcome, more than 300,000 Jewish residents of some 120 communities in the West Bank are watching and waiting to see if the sparks of the diplomatic clash ignite a political bushfire among their Arab neighbors, one that could sweep through their settlements, as well.

But "There's no pressure in the air here," said 33-year-old Yisrael Gantz of the 1,200-member town of Psagot, which is located a few miles north of Jerusalem -- and more to the point, next to Ramallah -- home to the Palestinian government.

"We are very relaxed here," insists Gantz, who is married with six children, as preschool children played behind him at a daycare center. "You can see the children around, daily life continues as usual, " Gantz told Xinhua Monday.

Behind the scenes, though, Israeli security officials from several settlements have told Xinhua in recent weeks that the army has helped prep them to deal with an array of scenarios in the wake of the UN vote: from non-violent rallies among both populations; to masses of Palestinians trying to infiltrate Jewish communities; to settlers marching into Palestinian towns; to shooting attacks from both sides.

However, they all downplayed the likelihood of significant outbreaks of either Palestinian or Israeli violence.

One official said that Palestinian dignitaries from several villages near a large settlement bloc south of Jerusalem told him they had too much to lose, both economically and politically, and would do their best to keep a lid on local protests.

For the Israelis' part, Gantz said they've been in this movie before, and knows the well-worn script by heart.

"(Former Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser) Arafat addressed the UN with a gun in a holster and an olive branch," he muses.

"We're not worried by it, but are not complacent," either he notes, pointing out "that there are professional teams (in charge of security) who are preparing accordingly, but the daily routine continues."

But while the Israeli army and police have heavily beefed up forces by several battalions-worth throughout the West Bank in recent weeks, and placed some 7,000 cops on duty or standby -- the key word authorities are using with the media is "restraint" -- a restraint backed up by a lot of force if need be.

In our visit to Jewish towns and villages in what Israel refers to as Judea and Samaria -- the Biblical name for the West Bank -- both to the north and south of the city, there were no temporary roadblocks, nor a sense that the army wanted to show its hand.

At least not yet.

"... the goal is that all remains quiet here," said Aviad, a resident of Nokdim, a small Jewish enclave of about 1,300 residents set on a tawny desert hill, overlooking a dramatic wadi southeast of Jerusalem.

Standing in the small outdoor square of the town's main synagogue-meeting center with his young daughter, Aviad, in his mid-twenties, says he's lived here for about five years, and is studying economics at university.

"We have 50-70 Palestinians who work in the community daily, and today one asked me coming in at the gate: 'Is there a closure, or can we come to work?'" he says, noting that he got the same questions as they were leaving at the end of the day.

The Palestinians work in construction, building the settlement' s homes.

While the Palestinian National Authority officially frowns on such work done in areas they hope to gain for a future state, officials turn a blind-eye to the widespread practice, since many Palestinians day-laborers and tradesmen say off-the-record that they make a better, steadier living with Jewish contractors than with Palestinian counterparts.

And even the presence of the settlement's star resident doesn't keep them away, even as political tensions over the plots of land rage elsewhere: Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also lives in Nokdim, which he played a part in establishing back in 1982.

While there is heavy security around Lieberman's two-story home, "both with the soldiers who guard here, and the residents that guard here in all sorts of roles -- the goal is quiet. Quiet is good," says Aviad, who volunteers on the village's civilian security detail.

Most of the residents, like the foreign minister, have to commute the 20-minute drive to Jerusalem and elsewhere for work, shopping, and business.

The twisty, patched and potted two-lane access road winds through an Arab village -- one of several on the way to the city -- which makes them easy targets for attacks. And there have been scores of deadly shootings, stonings and firebombing in the region over the last decade.

"Sometimes on the roads, they throw stones on buses and cars; that's really when you feel it," said Nina Sapir, a thirty- something American immigrant, adding that it was usually done by " a few bored kids," and that relations with their Arab neighbors were generally good.

But whether circumstances far from Nokdim would ever force hard- rightist Lieberman, Sapir, and other settlers to give up their homes for a negotiated peace deal with the Palestinians still remains an open question.

Lieberman, probably never, comes hell or high water -- unlikely in the desert surroundings. But his neighbor Aviad is less sure.

He says that for a peace deal -- a real, viable, anchored-in- stone, "end-of-conflict" peace between Israel and the Palestinians, "yeah -- I'd probably be willing to leave."

Reaching that goal is in the hands of the leaders of both their governments, and crucial answers -- either way -- are due in coming days.

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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