Settler leaders described a meeting they had this week with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a total failure, describing the sharply differing positions presented at the meeting as two speeding trains on their way to a head-on collision.
“This was a very difficult meeting for us. We feel that citizens are being abandoned. I don’t recall a similarly difficult meeting,” Uri Ariel, secretary- general of the Yesha Council, the council of Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, said at a news conference Monday night.
“We are now considering several options, including a campaign of civil disobedience, refusal to obey orders, blocking roads in and outside Yesha, and more,” he said.
In reaction, Rabin said on Army Radio, “They used scare tactics when the Oslo Agreement was signed. They used scare tactics when we said `Gaza and Jericho first.’ And they are using scare tactics today as well.
“I think that the reality will prove that things will be different. I made it clear to them that there is no danger in our security plan that there will be any encounters between armed Palestinian policemen and armed settlers.”
In response to the settler threat of disobeying orders issued by the Israel Defense Force, Rabin said the IDF is the people’s army and that refusing to obey orders of any kind is not a viable option.
Rabin met Monday afternoon with representatives of the settlers to discuss government policies in light of the still-evolving negotiations with the Palestinians for extending self-rule to the West Bank.
At the meeting, which lasted for 90 minutes, the settler leaders expressed concern for the safety — once the next phase of Palestinian self-rule goes into effect — of the more than 100,000 settlers living in the West Bank among about 1 million Palestinians.
The settlers used the meeting to express their opposition to IDF redeployment plans in the West Bank and plans to hand over state lands there to the Palestinian Authority, moves expected to be implemented as part of the second phase of the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement.
The settlers reported that Rabin was adamant, uncompromising and quite harsh in his words when describing the Israeli position in the negotiations with the Palestinians and when discussing the irreversibility of the peace process.
During the meeting, Rabin told the settlers that he is doing his best to provide them with maximum security — but reminded them that Israelis have never enjoyed full personal security.
The settlers were particularly upset that the Palestinians would have an armed police force in the West Bank once the next phase of autonomy is implemented.
In the past, the settlers movement has said any encounter between settlers, who are always armed when traveling in the West Bank, and armed Palestinian security personnel will inevitably lead to an exchange of gunfire.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are attempting to meet a July 25 deadline for signing an agreement that will launch the next phase of Palestinian self- rule.
Security issues and conflicting demands regarding water rights in the West Bank are reportedly holding up the reaching of a final agreement.
Negotiators meeting in Cairo on Tuesday reached agreements for handing over eight areas of responsibility in the West Bank to the Palestinians — commerce and industry, gas and petroleum. postal services, statistics, agriculture, insurance, labor and municipal authority.
The two sides also agreed to the opening of 18 Palestinian police stations in West Bank villages.
In addition, Palestinians will assume responsibility for the Tomb of Rachel and the Tomb of Joseph, but Israelis will be free to continue to worship at these sites.