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Jewish Fanatics in Hebron Raise Specter of Civil War

March 13, 1994|Yaacov Even | Yaacov Even, a retired brigadier general and former spokesman of the Israeli Defense Forces, writes on political and security issues for various Israeli newspapers.

TEL AVIV — Baruch Goldstein's murderous deed in Hebron has put the historic agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization on hold. To revive the peace talks, many Israelis--and Jews else where--have called for the forcible removal of Jews like Goldstein who live in settlements surrounded by Arabs. Would such a move lead to Jew fighting Jew in the occupied territories?

Ever since Israel's victory in the Six-Day War, the "doves" in Israel have tended to think that any Jewish settlement was a mistake. They considered the territories a "deposit" to keep until the day came to trade the land for peace.

The various "hawkish" groups emphasized the historical, religious and biblical right of the Jewish people to settle wherever they wished in the land of Israel. To this view they always added the argument of security. A settlement was always a "security asset."

Most Israelis support the Alon Plan, named for Yigal Alon, a military leader during the War of Independence. According to his plan, Israel is never to return to the borders that existed before the Six-Day War in 1967. But it must not absorb the Palestinian masses. The densely populated cities of Hebron, Nablus, etc., are to remain Arab enclaves connected to Jordan by an Arab corridor. Israel retains "only" greater Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and the Jordan Valley.

When the Likud Party held power, the principles of the Alon plan, especially with regard to settlement sites, were ignored. Settlements were the means to create an irreversible reality that would frustrate any future effort to trade land for peace. The name of the Likud game was: "Not an inch!"

Thus, we have "mini" villages consisting of about 30 families each. Netzarim, Nissanit, Kefar Darom in the Gaza Strip are examples. And there are Jews in the heart of Hebron, among them zealots.

When Tel Aviv imports psychopaths from Brooklyn--it's bad enough. Put them together in Hebron, and you have a sure calamity on your hands.

But Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose mentor was Alon, has good reasons to leave the Jewish settlers where they are--at least for the time being:

* It is important to understand Rabin's natural inclinations. Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin represented "political Zionism"--history is made by treaties, contracts, wars, annexations, peace, declarations and other political acts. Rabin is the golden boy of "practical Zionism"--in order to have a land for one's people, one has to plow another acre, milk another cow, dig a new well, erect a new kibbutz. Thus, to uproot a Jewish settlement is, for him, as tough as evacuating Algeria was for Gen. Charles de Gaulle.

* According to the agreement between Israel and the PLO, no settlement will be evacuated or relocated during the "interim period"--that is, until at least April, 1996. When Rabin resists the call to remove the Jews from Hebron, he is defending a principle embodied in the agreement.

* In Israel domestic politics, evacuation may annoy many political parties, putting the stability of the government at risk.

* Rabin knows well the rules of negotiation. He wishes to retain bargaining assets for the crucial stage of talks that begin after 1996, when settlements will be important to all concerned.

Is it thus safe to assume that the Jewish settlers in Hebron, and in similar cities, will not be evacuated?

The massacre in Hebron highlighted a certain "catch" in the Declaration of Principles agreed to by Israel and the PLO. One of its paragraph states: "In the redeployment of its forces, Israel will be guided by the principle that its military forces should be redeployed outside the populated zones."

The Hebron settlers are situated, alas, in the heart of a densely populated area.

But according to another paragraph, Israel will continue to be responsible for the overall safety of Israelis wherever they are, and will ensure and protect public order and security. If Israeli forces withdraw from Hebron, who then will protect Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his disciples? Would it be the "strong Palestinian police," soon to be established?

This is too optimistic. At most, it would an "infant" police force.

Rabin will thus have to postpone the withdrawal of the army, a breach of the agreement, or eject the settlers. Between these two alternatives there is only one choice: evacuation.

In such a case, will a Jewish settler open fire on Israeli soldiers? I think not.

The tensions, of course, will be enormous. Incidents will occur, but not a full-scale armed rebellion. It should be noted that any additional evacuation of settlements is unlikely to occur before November, 1996. The talks on the final arrangement are scheduled for April, 1996, but since they will be occurring in an election year, both political parties will be reluctant to take any decisive steps beforehand.

After November, it's a new ball game. If the Likud wins the elections, there will be no evacuation, and the whole agreement will be in jeopardy. If Rabin wins, and his government leans on a wider coalition, it will be Israel's hope that he will usher in the peace. Even if shootings do occur in places like Hebron, they will be promptly silenced. Reluctant as he may be, Rabin will do what needs to be done. Amen.

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