Yoram Harpaz, a 30-year-old Jerusalem high school teacher, is about to become a pawn in the game of Middle East power politics.
This month Harpaz and his wife will move out of their small, dark, rented apartment in Jerusalem to larger, more modern and less expensive quarters they have purchased in this suburban community six miles east of the heart of Jerusalem. Like many young couples the world over, they dream of a family and a better life away from the noise and congestion of the big city.
But when they move they will become, unwillingly and with agonizing second thoughts, part of a political movement--Jewish "settlers" in the occupied West Bank, two more toward the World Zionist Organization's goal of placing 100,000 Jews in the West Bank by the middle of this decade, making the territory irretrievably a part of Israel.
By the time Prime Minister Menachem Begin meets with President Reagan in Washington in February, Harpaz and his wife will be settled in the West Bank. The two political leaders are certain to discuss Reagan's Middle East peace initiative, with its ultimate goal of linking much of the West Bank to Jordan and his call for a freeze in the meantime on new Jewish settlements in the territory.
But Begin can be expected to resist fiercely. He will count among his strongest backers those Israelis who have already put their hopes for the future in the bleak landscape of the West Bank.
The government makes it easy for Harpaz to join the cause. The land, viewed by Israel as in the public domain, is seized under the provisions of an arcane Ottoman land law that leaves little room for Arab counterclaims. As a result, land is not a major cost factor as it is almost anywhere else in the world. Building costs, with cheap Arab labor providing much of the muscle, are modest compared to those in the cities. The government provides modern public facilities, such as a new road soon to connect the community to Jerusalem.
With generous mortgage subsidies and tax advantages, the Harpazs' monthly housing costs will plunge from about $200 to $60 when they move across the so-called Green Line that separates Israel from the territory it captured from Jordanian rule in the 1967 war.
Two years ago, Harpaz and a friend entered a government-sponsored lottery for the chance to purchase one of the first 400 apartment units in Maaleh Adumim. Harpaz lost out, but he says that because he strongly opposes what he calls his government's "annexation policy" toward the West Bank, he was secretly pleased.
His friend Amos Paz, who was one of the 400 winners, later told him some apartments had gone unclaimed. It was then that Harpaz made the decision that thousands of young Israelis are making, with enthusiasm or reluctance.
"I had some sleepless nights," he said. "I said to myself that Maaleh Adumim is going to be built with me or without me and I have a moral obligation to my wife and future family. So I went and bought, not with a clear conscience."
Because Israel is identified with the kibbutz movement and because the first Jewish colonies in the West Bank were lonely security outposts, places like Maaleh Adumim are called "settlements" and their inhabitants "settlers." But when applied to a planned community of 40,000 like this or many other burgeoning Jewish towns in the West Bank, the terms are misleading.
Three- and four-story apartment buildings rise starkly out of the rocky soil on the hillsides above the road to Jericho. From the outside, they form ugly rows of concrete boxes. Inside, the apartments are large by Israeli standards and fully equipped with modern conveniences.
The air is clean and the residents and promoters of Maaleh Adumim speak enthusiastically of the "quality of life" it offers. The head of the town council recently traveled to Switzerland to negotiate a contract for a minitrain system to provide public community transit.
It began seven years ago, as one of those unnoticed dots on the map, when 25 families established a colony that is now an industrial area adjacent to the housing complexes. Four years ago, the Begin government approved the master plan for the community and the next year construction started. It now involves nine private and three public firms.
Families began moving in last June and now number about 1,000. Another 1,000 apartments, including Harpaz's, have been sold and are waiting to be occupied. A year from now, the number of families is expected to have doubled.
Some who move here adamantly oppose the Begin government's policies toward the West Bank. Others fervently support Begin's view that it is part of the biblical "land of Israel" and is to remain so forever. But the vast majority of the residents, according to Dany Edery, director of Maaleh Adumim's community center, think about the issue little.
"The reason people come here is not politics, and this is a good thing," he said. "The political problem, we don't deal with it here. It is not part of our lives."
"They are the same people who go to the American suburbs--young families looking for affordable housing," said Meron Benvenisti, a city planner and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem who recently completed an extensive study of land use and development in the West Bank.
The average age of the apartment purchasers in Maaleh Adumim is 27, just a few years over the average age of marriage in Israel. There are already close to 500 children in the community's schools, which start with free prekindergarten care provided to the residents on the West Bank's "development towns."
Watching all this, the mayor of nearby Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, publicly frets that places like Maaleh Adumim are robbing his city of its future--fears that the mayor of any large American city would understand.
Within a few years, a whole generation of Israelis who have never known their country without the West Bank will reach the age of marriage. When they look for a place of their own, more and more of them are likely to choose not the cities like Jerusalem, where housing is scarce and expensive, but the development towns of the West Bank.
Maaleh Adumim and the other "urban settlements" scattered across the occupied territory will be waiting for them. "With your help we will develop this city and enjoy together a high standard of living," proclaims a brochure put out by the town and its developers. "Our purpose is to establish a flourishing city which is good and comfortable to live in. Today the dream comes true. Maaleh Adumim has become a city."
The brochure goes on to describe the area, the facilities and the advantages of the good life in the West Bank: "We have two plans for extended day care for children in kindergartens and schools until 4 p.m. to allow parents to continue to work in Jerusalem. We will supply transportation to junior and senior high schools outside the area. All education workers are eligible for special housing loans, rent subsidies, grants for professional advancement and upgraded seniority."
With these as some of the attractions, the World Zionist Organization, which maps the settlement plans that the government later approves and executes, seems confident that the West Bank in effect has already been annexed.
"You are talking about something that has started and you cannot stop it," said Zeev Ben Yosef, spokesman for the Zionists. "It's over."
This is a message Ben Yosef is eager to deliver, for if the future of the West Bank were already determined, there would not be much point in the United States pushing the Reagan plan or any other proposal to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that involves surrendering territory.
This may also help explain why, in the three months since the president's initiative, the Zionist organization and various government officials have put out a bewildering array of announcements of new and expanded settlements or master plans and projections for the Jewish population in the West Bank.
Benvenisti says some of the Zionist organization's plans and projections are exaggerated, that there is still time to halt the process and reach a political settlement in the West Bank. But on one central point there is no argument: It is very late in the game. And the key to the outcome is no longer whatever new settlements the Israeli government may approve, but the existing communities and their growth. That is governed only by the ability of contractors to put steel and concrete in place.
"In the United States you speak always of stopping new settlements," Ben Yosef said. "This is useless because we don't need to have new settlements. Mr. Begin could announce that we are stopping new settlements today without any effect. He doesn't do it for internal reasons."
"He's right, which is why a freeze on settlements is meaningless," Benvenisti said, referring to Ben Yosef's comment. "They don't need any more dots on the map." He said the government already controls enough land to reach its goals and has put in place most of the public infrastructure needed to support the Jewish communities. "Now the problem is only the capacity to build houses," he said.
To achieve its objectives, Benvenisti estimates that the Israeli government is spending $100 million to $120 million a year on direct settlement expenditures.
"Even if the government stops, the private market finds it so lucrative it will go on," he said. "It is now an integral part of the economy. It is the only part of the housing market that is flourishing. In other parts of Israel, the housing market is stagnant."
Even private firms owned by the Histadrut, Israel's giant labor federation that is controlled by the opposition Labor Party, have not resisted getting in on the bonanza. One of them is at work now in Maaleh Adumim, according to town officials.
A chart on the back of the Zionist organization's map of Jewish settlements tells how it got to be so late in the game so fast. Between 1967 and 1976, the Israeli government established 10 settlements in Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the West Bank, and two in the occupied Gaza Strip to the south of Israel. Then came 1977 and the election of the Likud Bloc government of Begin, with his contention that the West Bank is an integral part of historic Israel.
In the six years of Begin's rule, 62 settlements were established in Judea and Samaria and nine in Gaza. Along with 31 settlements in the Jordan Valley--17 of them established by the Begin government--there are today 114 Jewish communities in the occupied territories with an estimated population of 25,000.
The first settlers were, in Ben Yosef's words, "pioneers" and "crazy people--you have to be crazy to live in such bad conditions."
Some were Israeli liberals, kibbutz members who in the uncertain years after the 1967 war believed their country's fragile security demanded their presence in what would be the front lines, facing the Arab enemy across the Jordan River.
Others were driven by a different political ideology, like the followers of the militantly nationalistic Gush Emunim movement who contend they are part of a historic process to return the Jews to all of Judea and Samaria.
Now ordinary Israelis are coming to the dots on the map established by the pioneers. Eighteen of the 114 settlements, including Maaleh Adumim, are officially designated as urban communities and it is there that most of the astounding growth predicted by the Zionist organization is to occur.
According to Ben Yosef, there are now 6,000 housing units, most in the urban communities, in the final stages of construction. Another 4,000 will be completed within a year. Ben Yosef predicts there will be 70,000 Jews in the West Bank by mid-1983.
The Zionist organization's master plan calls for a West Bank Jewish population of 100,000 by 1986, but Ben Yosef said they may make it by 1984. The 30-year goal is to have 1.4 million Jews living in the West Bank. The current Arab population is about 700,000.
Even if the result is short of these goals, the vast expansion of the West Bank settlements is bound to have a large impact on the territory. The physical evidence is already there in the Israeli-built roads to connect the Jewish communities and in the towns that loom up, seemingly out of nowhere, across the landscape.
As Harpaz said, contemplating some kind of a political accommodation with the Arabs of the territory, "you cannot give a big city to the Palestinians."
The political impact, Benvenisti said, will be felt first in the Israeli Knesset or parliament. A West Bank population of 60,000 could affect five or six Knesset seats which, when added to those already ideologically committed to retaining all of the territory, would make a formidable bloc against any compromise, he said.
There will also be other, less visible changes. Now, for example, a lawyer must live within Israel proper to practice his profession. But if enough lawyers move to the West Bank, pressure will rise for a change.
"Laws will be changed and very slowly the difference between Israel and what is now legally a foreign country will disappear," Benvenisti said. "It will happen gradually."
Gradually, too, the way Israelis who have no particular interest in the West Bank view the territory will also change. A government official noted recently that since 1967 the vast majority of Israelis have steered clear of the West Bank. It is, after all, still captured territory under military occupation.
But with more of their friends and relatives moving to the West Bank, that psychological barrier will crumble.
It is already happening in Maaleh Adumim, where the parents of young people who have purchased apartments but who are away serving in the Army stop by occasionally to keep tabs on their children's interests. "The circle is enlarging all the time," the official said. "That is the danger."
Harpaz and his friend Paz say they will not passively allow themselves to be counted by the government among the hard-core resisters to political compromise in the West Bank. They say they are ready to give back large chunks of it to the Arabs in return for peace and will encourage their neighbors in Maaleh Adumim to think along the same lines.
But Paz, who has lived in the community since August, said there is a certain tension in Maaleh Adumim on the subject of West Bank politics and defensiveness among the residents about the town's right to be where it is. In a country that prides itself on its openness and freewheeling style of political debate, the two men only reluctantly provided their full names to an interviewer and would not allow the use of their wives' names.
They both spoke in terms of being "trapped." Their mortgages contain a provision imposing a heavy financial penalty if they leave Maaleh Adumim in the next five years, a factor that undoubtedly will hold them and others in place while the government aggressively pursues its settlement expansion policies.
"We are part of an annexation movement that we are against," Harpaz said. "We find ourselves supporting a movement that is a disaster for Israel, morally and physically."