JERUSALEM, June 4 (JTA) Israel has increased security for its prime minister after Jewish settlers warned that Ehud Barak risks assassination if he plans to give more land to the Palestinians.
Government officials warned settlers not to encourage the same kind of atmosphere that preceded the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, when the former prime minister was vilified by right-wing nationalists.
Shlomo Riklin, a leader of the Second Generation group of young settlers, warned that Barak’s “days could be numbered” if he uproots Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The group has set up outposts on West Bank hilltops to try to prevent land transfers to the Palestinians.
According to reports Sunday, some extremists in the settler community are talking about finding rabbis who would issue edicts supporting Barak’s assassination.
Barak said at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting that while he respects the settlers’ movement, no attack could stop the peace process.
Levy called on religious figures “to be careful in your remarks because you are spiritual leaders. Declarations which are dangerous could, God forbid, bring upon us another blow we cannot bear,” Levy said.
He made the comment at a meeting with Jewish settler leaders, who were quick to denounce any incitement to violence.
“We will not support any development that will lead, God forbid, to any incitement to assassinate the prime minister or any other Israeli leaders,” settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein told reporters in Jerusalem.
But, he added, “We unfortunately face a very difficult battle.”
The settler leaders had asked to meet with Levy to clarify recent speculation that Barak had agreed to hand over up to 95 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians.
Barak has denied the speculation, but did tell his party last week that he would consider it a “historic achievement” if a final deal resulted in 80 percent of the Jewish settler population remaining under Israeli sovereignty.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was scheduled to arrive in the Middle East on Monday to try to help advance Israeli-Palestinian talks.
She was expected to use her two-day visit to attempt to pave the way for a summit before the end of the month involving Barak, President Clinton and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
In recent weeks, Israel and the Palestinians have traded accusations of dragging out the negotiations.
A day before Albright was slated to arrive, Barak and Arafat sparred on the issue of Jerusalem.
Barak told the team negotiating a final peace deal with the Palestinians not to discuss the status of Jerusalem for now, according to a Cabinet statement.
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat reacted by saying that Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian state, adding that if Israelis don’t like the idea, “They can go and drink the Dead Sea.”