By Linda Gradstein
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, November 3, 2008
JERUSALEM, Nov. 2 -- The director of Israel's domestic security service told a cabinet meeting Sunday that he is "very concerned" that Jewish extremists could attempt to assassinate Israeli leaders who seek peace with the Palestinians, according to meeting participants.
The warning by Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin was the latest in a series from top Israeli security officials in recent months. They have said Israel faces danger from radicalized groups of settlers who vehemently oppose negotiations over the future of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
A senior official who attended Sunday's meeting said there are concerns in the intelligence community and at the highest levels of government that growing extremist violence is a real threat and that Israel must take more steps to protect itself. Many of the 250,000 settlers in the West Bank carry Israeli government-issued guns to protect themselves from Palestinian attacks.
"We have a serious problem with vigilante violence, and ignoring the problem won't make it go away," the official said. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the cabinet session was closed to the news media.
Yigal Amitai, a spokesman for the Jewish settlers of Yitzhar, rejected Diskin's remarks.
"If he has proof that anyone is planning an assassination, he should arrest them and charge them in court," he said. "But why is he slandering an entire sector of the population?"
Many settlers oppose the idea of ceding land in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem, both of which were captured by Israel in 1967 and are sought by the Palestinians as components of a future state.
Diskin's warning came two days before Israel marks the anniversary of the killing of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was slain in 1995 by a young Israeli angered by Rabin's concessions to Palestinians under the Oslo peace accords. The assassin, Yigal Amir, approached Rabin as he left the stage at a peace rally in Tel Aviv and fired three shots into his back. The shots killed Rabin almost instantly.
Amir was sentenced to life in prison and has become a hero to a small group of extremists. He made headlines in Israel this weekend after excerpts of a recorded telephone interview he gave were broadcast on Israeli television.
In the interview, Amir expressed no remorse for the assassination and said he was influenced by Israeli military leaders who warned that a peace treaty with the Palestinians could be dangerous for Israel. Following a public uproar, television executives decided not to air the full interview.
During Sunday's meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also warned of growing lawlessness among the settlers.
"There is a group, that is not small, of wild people who behave in a way that threatens proper law and governance. . . . This is unacceptable and we cannot countenance it," Olmert said, according to a statement from the prime minister's office. "Attacking soldiers and their commanders, attacking policemen and other security personnel and injuring them is unacceptable."
Olmert resigned the prime ministership in September under pressure over corruption allegations. But he remains in office as a caretaker premier pending the results of elections slated for February.
On Friday several policemen were injured when they dismantled a settler outpost established illegally near the West Bank town of Hebron. Dozens of settlers cursed and threw stones at the officers. There have also been several instances this fall of settlers attacking Palestinians harvesting olives in the West Bank as well as Israeli soldiers trying to protect the Palestinian farmers.
During Sunday's meeting, the cabinet decided to end government funding for infrastructure supporting outposts, which are Jewish homes in the West Bank that are not officially authorized by the Israeli government.
"The Israeli government does not directly fund illegal outposts," said Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman. "But this decision means we need to look more carefully at indirect funding -- such as who is paying for the road that connects the outpost to the settlement."
The dovish organization Peace Now, which monitors settlement expansion in the West Bank, says there are more than 100 outposts across the West Bank, ranging in size from a few mobile homes to ones with permanent homes and dozens of families. About half of them were established after March 2001. According to the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, Israel is obligated to remove those outposts. Peace Now contends that only a few small outposts have been removed and that many others have expanded.