Amid sharp differences of opinion, the Israeli Cabinet has agreed to launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killings of Palestinians at a Hebron mosque and to attempt to limit the activities of Jewish extremists in the territories.
On Sunday, the Cabinet agreed to establish an official commission of inquiry into the killings. The commission, which will be headed by a Supreme Court judge, was criticized by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He called the idea “a big mistake.”
The Cabinet also ordered a series of legal and administrative measures aimed at extremists among West Bank settlers.
The new measures include the imposition of administrative detentions, effectively enabling security forces to circumvent the judicial system and detain Israelis; the enactment of orders barring the entry of certain, unspecified people into the West Bank, particularly Hebron; and the disarmament of specific individuals and the confiscation of their weapons permits.
The Cabinet also gave Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair the task of exploring options for outlawing the Kach and Kahane Chai organizations, which were spawned by slain Jewish Defense League leader Meir Kahane and which militantly oppose the government’s peace initiatives.
The officer in charge of the Central Command, Gen. Danny Yatom, told reporters on Sunday that administrative detention orders had already been issued against five prominent Kach activists, but only one had been served thus far.
According to media reports here, other Kach activists have gone into hiding.
Neither Rabin nor Yatom was prepared to say how many people would be affected by the various orders that were yet to be issued.
During its meeting Sunday, the Cabinet also agreed that some 800 to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners and detainees would be released during the coming week.
The release of prisoners and detainees in large numbers has long been a key demand raised by the Palestine Liberation Organization during the negotiations for establishing self-rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.
Israel had previously planned a prisoner releases will be moved forward, and increased in scope, as a goodwill gesture to the PLO.
Israeli sources said the released Palestinians would not include any people imprisoned for direct involvement in terrorism.
Israeli policy-makers hope the Cabinet’s decisions, which are intended to demonstrate new resolve to stamp out Jewish extremism, will facilitate the quick resumption of the peace talks.
Some Cabinet ministers said over the weekend that what is needed now is to speed up the talks and reach an agreement on Palestinian self-rule soon as possible.
In Tunis, however, initial reaction from PLO headquarters to the Israeli government’s decisions was distinctly tepid.
Following Friday’s killings by Dr. Baruch Goldstein of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, the PLO demanded an international presence in the territories to protect the Palestinians. It has also called for the dismantling of all Israeli settlements.
Meanwhile, the American-born Goldstein was buried Sunday in a temporary cemetery in Kiryat Arba after a funeral that began in Jerusalem and attracted a crowd of several hundred sympathetic mourners.
The Israel Defense force apparently rejected his family’s demand that Goldstein be buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron.
Goldstein was clubbed death by Muslims at the Hebron mosque after Goldstein had fired at the worshipers in the mosque. He rejected victims’ accounts that soldiers arriving at the scene had fired into the crowd.
On Sunday night, Yatom categorically denied that anyone but Goldstein had fired at the worshipers in the mosque. He rejected victims’ accounts that soldiers arriving at the scene had fired into the crowd.
But Yatom conceded that some soldiers who should have been on duty at the mosque were apparently not there.
This was a reference to several border policemen who should have taken up positions at the entrances to the entrances to the mosque at 5 a.m. Friday. Border policemen arrived later – by which time the attacks was over.
Rabin said the IDF and the defense establishment had “nothing to fear” from a commission of inquiry.
He had opposed the idea, he said, because it would entail a massive expenditure of energy by a large number of officeholders. Under the Commission of Inquiry Law of 1968, the president of the Supreme Court appoints commissions, selecting its chairman from among the list of serving or retired Supreme Court justices. Like a court of law, a commission hears evidence given under oath and has the power to subpoena witnesses.
Justice Minister David Libai, who proposed the establishment of a formal commission, said it was important for Israel, the Palestinians and the entire world to have full confidence in the factual of an official board of inquiry.