- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

JERUSALEM Security has been tightened around Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the face of fresh reports that hard-line Jewish extremists might try to assassinate him for his territorial concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

The warnings have come as Israeli-Palestinian negotiations move toward a deal that will require substantial Israeli pullbacks and the abandonment for the first time of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

The first public warning about a possible assassination plot was sounded two weeks ago by Shimon Riklin, head of the right-wing youth movement Next Generation, which is considered activist but not extremist.

Mr. Riklin said in a newspaper interview that if Mr. Barak agrees to the evacuation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank there was a possibility, according to rumors reaching him from the extremist camp, that he will be targeted for murder.

Another settlement leader termed Mr. Barak "a war criminal" for his readiness to hand over Jewish settlements in the heart of biblical Israel, and a prominent West Bank rabbi said any such move by Mr. Barak would constitute "treason."

Mr. Barak responded publicly to the reports for the first time yesterday, permitting the release of a Cabinet statement in which he told his ministers that history showed the peace process could not be halted by an assassin.

"The Rabin murder was a human and national tragedy, but it could not stop the peace process," he said in reference to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by right-wing radical Yigal Amir.

"If there would be any ramifications to a political assassination, it would be a boomerang effect and a shot in the foot to the campaign of those who have dreamed and fought for Greater Israel.

"If there is one thing that kills the legitimacy of the struggle of the settlers, it is actions such as these."

Carmi Gillon, who was was head of the Shin Bet security services when it failed to prevent the assassination of Mr. Rabin, called over the weekend for the arrest of extremist rabbis whose preaching might incite murder.

Radical religious elements such as Yigal Amir will not act without an understanding that they have rabbinical backing, Mr. Gillon said.

Security officials say the protests among hard-liners, including accusations of treason, are reminiscent of the atmosphere that preceded Mr. Rabin's assassination.

Even before Mr. Riklin's statement, Shin Bet decided to increase security precautions around the prime minister and to step up intelligence activities among extremist elements.

Mainstream conservatives, including leaders of the settlement movement, are appalled at the talk of political violence and warn that another assassination attempt would be disastrous for the country and for their movement.

Many of these moderate right-wing leaders see the Rabin killing as having delegitimized their battle to retain Israeli control of the West Bank in the eyes of the broad Israeli public.

Opposition to partial pullbacks since the assassination has indeed been muted. However, mass demonstrations are expected to resume as Israel and the Palestinians approach a final agreement in which Israel will withdraw from areas containing settlements.

In his election campaign last year, Mr. Barak said that in a final peace accord the majority of the 200,000 settlers would remain under Israeli sovereignty, but not necessarily the majority of settlements.

He was indicating that many settlements would be moved to new sites within enclaves close to the Israeli border or incorporated into other settlements.

In a speech Friday, Mr. Barak said that if 80 percent of West Bank settlers remain under Israeli sovereignty, it would be "a historic achievement."

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