Sharon government seen as waffling on thriving settlement because of U.S. elections.by Michele Chabin - Israel Correspondent
Maaleh Adumim - When Israeli officials hinted last week that this flourishing 30-year-old settlement located just a few miles northeast of Jerusalem might be left outside the security barrier, Shachar Loshinsky, an educator and mother of four, didn't panic.
Nor did Loshinsky, 42, a longtime Maaleh Adumim resident, rejoice when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz visited the community a day or two later and declared that the settlement would indeed be included in the barrier's perimeter after all.
"I see Maaleh Adumim as part of Jerusalem," Mofaz told hordes of reporters. "The fence will not be according to the 1967 line. There were reports like this, but they were incorrect."
Seated in the air-conditioned living room of her comfortable home, Loshinsky, a Modern Orthodox Jew who wears jeans and describes her political views as "moderate," explained why the government's flip-flop didn't cause her a moment's anxiety.
"Maaleh Adumim is part of the national consensus," Loshinsky said confidently. "Anyone who talks about moving more than 30,000 people is living in a state of delusion. Maaleh isn't an outpost. It's a city located 10 minutes away by car from Jerusalem."
Loshinsky attributed her government's waffling to political considerations.
"It's an election year," she said of the U.S. presidential vote in November. "It's hard to take anything that's said now very seriously."
Analysts said the mixed messages coming from Jerusalem are partly the result of the pressure both American candidates are placing on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not to make waves.
According to the Jerusalem Report, Sharon said Sunday that he would not approve building permits for 1,300 new housing units in Maaleh Adumim, Ariel, Beitar Illit and Kiryat Arba, even though the government had endorsed the overall construction plan some time ago.
Sharon reportedly also assured U.S. envoy Eliot Abrams that his government has no immediate plans to build a community between Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem in order to create 'territorial contiguity' between the two.
Dan Schueftan, senior political fellow at the University of Haifa's National Security Studies Center, said that Sharon "is trying to tread lightly" with Israel's staunchest ally.
"After what we've had at the Hague and the UN decision, the U.S. is the only country that Israel can rely on - So it would be irresponsible for an Israeli prime minister to provoke the Americans in the middle of an American campaign with something not absolutely vital," he said.
"As long as the Americans don't try to stop us from proceeding with the wall, it's a net gain," said Schueftan, who is known as the father of unilateral disengagement.
Despite Sharon's assurances related to future building, evidently he has not made any attempt to stop the construction of the huge '07' neighborhood nearing completion in Maaleh Adumim. Neither has President Bush, for that matter.
Located in the eastern part of Maaleh Adumim rather than toward Jerusalem in the west, the gleaming neighborhood is full of Arab workers putting the finishing touches on white stone apartment buildings.
Already home to hundreds of families, the community boasts very large apartments with gardens and parking spaces for less than $250,000. The same apartments in Jerusalem would cost almost twice that amount.
Loshinsky shakes her head over the American government's most recent pronouncements on settlement construction, unaware of the neighborhood's construction, which was planned years ago but which required governmental approval when it came time to issue building permits.
"The Americans make it seem like they're shocked every time a house goes up, but they have satellites that track everything," Loshinsky said. "They know the first time a pebble was moved."
If the U.S. administration has remained mum on 07, it's been a great deal more vocal about the 'E1' construction site visible from Loshinsky's living room window.
From this vantage point, one could see a new road carved into the hillside, as well as trucks going to and from the site.
"They were planning to build a hotel complex," said Jacob Richman, another longtime Maaleh Adumim resident and creator of the settlement's Web site (www.jr.co.il/ma). "Right now no one can say for sure exactly what will happen."
Chezi Zissman, a spokesman for the Maaleh Adumim municipality, told The Jewish Week that "nobody knows what will be. The defense minister told us that we will be located within the fence. He told us that we will continue to grow and develop and possibly build new neighborhoods to make us contiguous with Jerusalem."
Richman is just as confident that the community will grow and prosper within the security barrier. Driving around the immaculately clean settlement on wide roads bordered by beds of marigolds and date palms, Richman, 45, explains where his faith comes from.
"We have everything you could want here, except for maybe a bowling alley," he said. "The industrial zone has over 100 companies. We have a swimming pool, a country club, a very large library and a shopping mall. We don't live in tents or caravans. This is an established Israeli city, not something that popped up, poof, in one day."
If anything, Richman is even more proud of his city's ethnic and religious diversity.
"It's a mixed community. About 20 percent of the population is religious, about 50 percent traditional. About 15 percent are Anglos," Richman said, using the Israeli term for native English speakers.
Richman, whose accent still betrays the Brooklynite he once was, said, "I'm a city boy but I love it here."