JERUSALEM (Feb. 3)
The Cabinet, meeting as a ministerial security committee today, discussed mounting tension on the West Bank and agreed to continue the discussion at a special session on Wednesday.
No policy decisions were reached but Premier Shimon Peres implicitly warned settlers in the territory that the government would not tolerate their taking the law into their own hands. The settlers, long unhappy over what they allege is the government’s failure to provide adequate protection against terrorists, are demanding harsher measures against the Arab populace.
They demonstrated today by blocking key roads with their cars for nearly two hours, causing mammoth traffic jams. They moved their vehicles in time to avoid clashes with police.
The settlers are infuriated over a series of incidents last week. A Jew, David Pinhas, seriously burned by a Molotov cocktail in Kalkilya early in the week, died at a Petach Tikva hospital Thursday. On Wednesday, a bus driver and a passenger were slightly wounded when terrorists ambushed an Egged bus on the Jerusalem-Hebron highway.
PERES SAYS GOVERNMENT WILL ENFORCE THE LAW
Peres told the Cabinet today that the government’s policy in the territories is a soft hand toward law-abiding citizens and a hard hand toward terrorists. He made it clear that justice would be meted out to violators equally, whether they are Jews or Arobs. He stressed that only the government and its law enforcement agencies will enforce the law in the territories and no other elements will be allowed to take the law into their hands.
Peres’ even-handed policy drew an angry retort from Yuval Neeman, leader of the rightwing Tehiya party which is outside the unity coalition. He said Peres’ remarks sounded as if they were coming from “a British observer.”
But Peres’ views seem to reflect a broad consensus among the Labor and Likud components of the Cabinet who agree that no drastic changes are needed in present policy. That position was reenforced by security sources who said today that there has been no increase in the number of terrorist attacks overall, although the two incidents last week caused casualties.
The sources said they believed a terrorist gang is responsible rather than random acts of stone throwing or Molotov cocktail attacks by individual Arabs. However, the sources condemned the reaction by the settlers today and rejected their claim of a new wave of terrorism on the West Bank linked to the government’s decision to withdraw the Israel Defense Force from Lebanon.
Nevertheless, a confrontation could be building between the militant settlers and their supporters in the Knesset and the unity government. Spokesmen for the settlers said today they would refrain from further action for 24 hours, presumably to give the Knesset time to debate the situation. The settlers have been warning for some time that they would not remain idle while the security situation deteriorated.
Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the leader of Likud, had an angry confrontation with militant settlers in Hebron last Thursday. He had gone there to assure them that the unity government will continue the policies of the previous Likud-led regime. But his audience was not molified, probably because news had just reached them of the death of Pinhas.
Otniel Schneller, secretary general of the Association of Jewish Settlements in Judaea and Samaria, warned Shamir that the settlers may have no alternative but to “go out and take care of their defense them-selves.” Such phraseology has been used by settlers when they plan to initiate retaliatory acts against Arabs.
SHAMIR URGES CALM
Shamir urged them to remain calm and do nothing to worsen the situation. Israeli security forces raided the Dahaishe refugee camp, a frequent trouble spot, over the weekend and detained more than a score of camp residents on suspicion of participating in recent rock-throwing and Molotov cocktail attacks on Jewish vehicles. Arobs charged the raid was to appease the settlers but security officials said it was planned long before the recent incidents.
Jewish militants in Hebron meanwhile uprooted 35 Arab-owned fruit trees in the Tel Rumeida region, claiming the land belonged to Jews.