A published call for Jewish settlers here in the occupied West Bank to prepare for civil war in case the Israeli government decides to offer Jordan territorial concessions for peace has caused a bitter dispute between many hard-line settlers and the government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Peres, replying to a question in Israel's parliament today, accused the settlers' leadership of trying to "sow panic" and of misleading the public about his intentions.
He was referring to a statement issued after a meeting here yesterday of the Council of Jewish Settlers of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that a government decision to cede any part of the occupied territories would be "an illegal act and ought not to be obeyed."
The settlers' statement said they would treat any Israeli government that ceded territory just as French resistance leader Charles de Gaulle treated Marshal Henri Philippe Petain after he collaborated with Nazi Germany following France's collapse in World War II.
Leaders of the settlement movement, however, sought to dissociate themselves from any call to arms and stressed that proposals for forcible resistance to territorial compromise were not even put to a vote in the meeting here because the initiators realized they did not have enough support.
But settlers who attended the meeting reported bitter divisions in which hard-liners warned of a repetition of the clashes that occurred when Israeli troops forcibly removed a group of Jewish zealots from Yamit, a Jewish settlement in the Sinai, in April 1982, and then turned the area over to Egypt.
The settlers' council acted after an article appeared in a settlers' newspaper, Alef Yud, calling on each Jewish resident of the West Bank to "prepare himself mentally to stand up . . . and raise his hand -- and his weapon -- against his brother" if the government exchanges West Bank territory for peace with Jordan.
Peres told parliament today that the article, written by a settler using the pseudonym M. Ben-Yisrael, was being investigated by authorities. In response to members' demands that the settlers' council also be investigated, Peres said the probe would not be restricted to the article.
Later tonight, on the orders of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the newspaper was closed for allegedly violating regulations governing publications in the occupied territories by inciting violence.
Peres charged the settlers with attempting to inflame opinion by misrepresenting his efforts to begin peace talks with Jordan and Palestinian representatives.
Yacov Rahamim, the editor of Alef Yud, a 10,000-circulation journal published at the Ariel settlement near Tulkarm, said the purpose of the article was not to incite violence, but to alert Jews in the West Bank to the danger of civil war that he said would accompany territorial concessions.
Israel Harel, chairman of the Council of Jewish Cities and Settlements, said tonight after meeting with the Likud faction of parliament that the settlers would act as a watchdog to prevent Likud legislators from "being led astray by Peres' peace maneuvers."
The Likud members "might be caught unaware and vote for a plan that they might be ideologically against," Harel said.
Elykhaim Haetzni, a leader of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, said of the meeting, "We were desperately looking for a way to channel the anger, the despair of tens of thousands who are living in Judea and Samaria into a reaction that won't be violent."
Rabbi Yoel Bin-Yun, an Ofra educator and a moderate member of the Gush Emunim secretariat, said in an interview here today that only a small minority of settlers support armed resistance to peace concessions, and that those who do so should be condemned.
Bin-Yun said, however, that if the government denies Jews their heritage of living anywhere in the biblical land of Israel, he foresees "a political danger" that could turn the area "into another Lebanon."
Bin-Yun said he was glad the Alef Yud article attracted public attention because "the kind of people who make that statement can see the reaction of the majority. I hope from this open discussion we can prevent it [civil war] from happening."