Valley settlers fear betrayal by Rabin: As peace talks are set to resume, Jews living near Jericho claim co-existence with Arabs will fail, writes Sarah Helm in Naama

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The Independent Online
THE HI-TECH Jewish greenhouses of the Jordan valley, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, were glistening in the January sun yesterday, as a helicopter carrying Yitzhak Rabin, touched down at the settlement of Naama, one mile north of Jericho.

Long-awaited rains had turned the parched tomato crops green. And on the valley road, trucks laden with flowers hurtled across the Green Line and on to Israeli ports. There they would be shipped on to Britain - the settlers' main market.

Jewish productivity in the Jordan valley, however, is threatened by blight, and Mr Rabin, Israel's Prime Minister, had come to give the settlers of Naama a message of doom.

Yesterday it was announced that the Gaza-Jericho peace talks are to resume in the Red Sea resort of Taba next week. At issue in these talks is the size of the Palestinian zone of Jericho. Under a complex Israeli formula all Jewish settlements near Jericho will remain outside the Palestinian area, Mr Rabin told the settlers yesterday.

However, Naama - so close to Jericho - will be effectively cut off by the Palestinian self- rule zone, which, under Israel's plan, would encompass Jericho and its satellite village of Ouja via a linking corridor. An expensive new road is now proposed, running east of Jericho, to link Naama with Israel proper, so no settlers would pass through the Arab zone.

'We will be surrounded by the enemy,' said David Levy, a leading Jordan valley settler.

The fate of Naama has stirred fear throughout the remaining 22 Jordan valley settlements, which are largely kibbutzim. Self-rule is shortly to be extended beyond Jericho.

While all the 130,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are apprehensive about their future, Jordan valley settlers liked to believe, until recently, that they were a special case.

Few of the 6,000 Jewish settlers of the Jordan valley are religious ideologues. They have little in common with the radicals who moved into Arab areas of the West Bank under the right-wing Likud government to stake a claim to Eretz (greater) Israel.

As peace has approached, the settlers here believe Mr Rabin is betraying them. The Prime Minister has assured the Jews of Jordan valley - like all other settlers - that they will not have to move or come under Arab rule during the interim phase of autonomy.

After the Naama proposal, the settlers can see that the patchwork of Jewish-Arab enclaves Mr Rabin is constructing as an alternative will swiftly prove unworkable, and they believe Mr Rabin's secret agenda is to squeeze them out.

'Some people are talking about taking compensation and leaving because they don't believe in the future,' Mr Levy said.

Yesterday Mr Rabin told the Naama settlers that the Jordan valley would remain an important security zone for Israel 'with or without settlements'. And he said that those who thought they could come to live here without facing problems 'were wrong'.

Although the settlers claim they 'have Arab friends' the chances of happy co-existence is minimal, even if the enclaves work.

Over the years the settlers have provoked much bitterness among their poor Arab neighbours, developing modern farming methods, exploiting a lucrative European market, while, all around them, Palestinians have been strangled by the occupation.

Settlers employ Palestinians to do the picking and tilling. But they say they are 'frightened' by the Arabs who may come to be their neighbours when self-rule gets under way.

JERUSALEM (Reuter) - Israel said it would release 101 Palestinian prisoners - who all come from the Gaza Strip and West Bank - today. An Israeli army spokesman said the prisoners were members of Palestinian groups which support the peace deal signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation on 13 September.

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