The killing of at least 40 Palestinians by a Jewish settler on Friday has sparked continued unrest here and has left Israeli officials pessimistic about the future course of negotiations with their Arab neighbors.
On Monday, the fourth consecutive day of widespread unrest in the territories and throughout Israel following the killings in Hebron, two Palestinians were killed during violent confrontations with the Israel Defense Force.
On the diplomatic front, Israeli officials reacted glumly to the not-unexpected news that Syria, Lebanon and Jordan had decided to suspend the bilateral negotiations in Washington.
In Jerusalem, the Knesset united behind a resolution condemning Friday’s murders. It marked the first time that all parties in the 13th Knesset, left- and right-wing parties alike, agreed on the text of a resolution.
Following the government’s announcement that a special board of inquiry would be set up to investigate the massacre, the president of the Supreme Court, Justice Meir Shamgar, announced Monday that he would personally chair the commission.
Despite a curfew still in force over the city, rioting took place Monday in Hebron. One man was killed by the IDF near the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Dr. Baruch Goldstein raked hundreds of Muslim worshippers with automatic rifle fire last Friday.
Palestinians vented their anger by defying curfews imposed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A second Palestinian was killed and 22 were wounded during confrontations with the IDF.
Including Monday’s violence, a total of 21 Palestinians were killed in violent demonstrations since Friday.
There were also violent incidents, though without major injury, in the Bedouin township of Rahat in the Negev, where the victim of Sunday’s clashes with police, a 23-year-old local man, was laid to rest. Israeli Arab leaders, some of them visibly shaken by Friday’s massacre, chanted slogans voicing their solidarity with the Hebron victims and their families.
Following the decision by Syria, Lebanon and Jordan to suspend the bilateral negotiations in Washington – which in any case were scheduled to recess later this week – Israeli officials are waiting to see if negotiators for the Palestine Liberation Organization will take up President Clinton’s invitation to resume their talks with Israel in Washington. PLO leader Yasser Arafat initially responded positively to the invitation, but he has grown increasingly hesitant about the idea, and some members of the PLO Executive Committee reportedly boycotted a meeting Sunday in Tunis at which the subject was to be put to a vote.
Arafat has termed inadequate a series of measures imposed Sunday by the Israeli government to crack down on Jewish extremists. He has also called for the complete removal of all settlements and for the presence of U.N. forces in the territories as prerequisites for the resumption of talks with Israel.
Last week, only two days before the mass murders in Hebron, optimistic announcements were issuing from Jerusalem and Cairo that the signing of a final agreement on establishing Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho would take place in a matter of weeks.
In Jerusalem, Shamgar announced that four others would sit alongside him on the commission of inquiry into Friday’s killings. The commission’s other members include another Supreme Court justice, an Arab district court judge from Nazareth, a former IDF chief of staff and an eminent academic.
The commission of inquiry will hold public hearings in the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem.
In the Knesset on Monday afternoon, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the establishment of the commission, but demanded that it also investigate the wave of Arab terror killings of both Jews and Arabs since the self-rule accord was signed last September in Washington. But the commission’s specific mandate, drawn up by a three-person Cabinet committee under Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, keeps the commission’s task narrowly focused on last Friday’s events in Hebron.
The mass killings brought unequivocal condemnations from Israel’s two chief rabbis on Monday.
“To say that I condemn the act is an understatement,” said Chief Sephardi Rabbi Bakshi Doron. “I am simply ashamed that a Jew carried out such a villainous and irresponsible act, and I am distressed that it is viewed as the act of religious person.”
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said the act ran counter to the Jewish faith. “I have said in the past to leaders of other faiths, including the pope, that just as to stab someone in the back while crying `Allah hu-Akhbar’ (or `God is Great’ in Arabic) is a desecration of God’s name, neither is there any basis to claim that this murder was carried out in the name of the Jewish religion,” said Lau.