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Israeli Cabinet Vows to Get Tough on Settlers Who Commit Illegal Acts

Israeli Cabinet ministers have pledged to step up actions against Jewish settlers who commit illegal acts while protesting the self-rule accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Cabinet, which took the step Monday, also warned of a crackdown against settlers who commit acts of violence in retaliation for attacks on Israelis by Arabs.

The weekly Cabinet meeting was held after settlers groups announced that they will intensify their protest campaigns and will defy the authority of the nascent Palestinian police force, which will begin to assume authority in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho in mid-December.

The head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza qualified the announcement by saying it opposes violence committed by settler against innocent Arabs.

The council also announced that its latest survey of some 500 Israelis showed that slightly more than half of those questioned would like to nullify the self-rule accord because of recent terrorist attacks against Israelis.

A separate poll of Palestinians released at the same time showed that support for Islamic fundamentalist and rejectionist groups has grown and that support for PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s Al Fatah faction has declined since the Israel-PLO accord was signed on Sept. 13.

The survey of Palestinians, conducted by the Center for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus, showed that Palestinian support for Fatah dropped from roughly 46 percent to 41 percent between Sept. 10 and Nov. 11.

During the same period, support for the fundamentalist Hamas increased from 8 percent to close to 15 percent.

Support for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Damascus-based radical faction opposed to the peace process, increased from 4 percent to 9 percent.

Some 1,855 Palestinians were questioned for the survey, which was conducted by interview.

SETTLERS CALLED FASCISTS

Meanwhile, Israel’s new attorney general, Michael Ben-Yair, prepared detailed proposals for the Cabinet on how security forces should deal with settlers who commit violent and illegal acts against Arabs or their property.

The proposals reportedly contain no new legislation but focus instead on enforcing existing laws. The proposals will not be voted on before next week at the earliest, after the Cabinet has had a chance to review them.

Environment Minister Yossi Sarid and Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban were particularly harsh in their attacks on settlers who break the law, calling them fascists.

Sarid promised that “new methods of dealing with the violent activity” would go into effect in the very near future.

Economics Minister Shimon Shetreet said the settlers’ retaliatory violence against Arabs should not be condoned, but he said it had been exaggerated in media reports. He noted that Israel had yet to see an end to Palestinian violence.

But Shetreet also expressed his support for tough action against settlers who break the law.

“There was not at any time any policy that suggests we do not apply or enforce the law,” Shetreet told Israel Radio.

The settlers “are subject to the law, and it is also our commitment to our Palestinian partners that we will preserve law and order as much as they are under (obligation) to prevent terror, to prevent violence,” he said.

But in a heated Knesset Law Committee meeting Monday, Chairman Dedi Zucker charged that the army had not been effective in stopping organized violence by the settlers. He said arrests alone will not deter further violence.

Likud Knesset member Ron Nahman, who is also the mayor of the West Bank city of Ariel, responded by accusing the government of harassing all settlers because of the actions of a few.

Other representatives of the political right called for more government sensitivity to the fears and uncertainties the settlers have expressed since the Israel-PLO accord was signed.

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