- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2003

JERUSALEM — Members of Jewish extremist groups pose a growing threat to the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Some extremists in Israel began calling Mr. Sharon a traitor after his acceptance this week of the U.S.-backed “road map” for Mideast peace that includes creation of a Palestinian state.

“We don’t regard this as a legitimate government anymore,” David Haivri, a young activist, told the newspaper Ma’ariv.

Similar angry sentiments were heard among extremists in the months before the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist who opposed Israeli troop withdrawals from the occupied territories.

The latest tensions come after Israel’s acceptance of the U.S.-backed peace initiative, which at some point could involve the removal of many of the 225,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Settler leaders, fearful that evacuation of their communities will become Israel’s price for peace, warned they would resist any such attempts by all means short of open violence.

However, members of small but not inconsequential Jewish extremist groups have refused to rule out the use of arms against Israeli troops.

Israel has tightened security, calling in extra bodyguards to protect Cabinet ministers around the clock, the London Daily Telegraph reported, citing unnamed Israeli intelligence sources.

“No one is taking any chances now,” one source told the newspaper.

Mr. Sharon also is being advised to cancel some personal appearances. The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, is determined not to repeat the mistakes that allowed Palestinian gunmen to kill Rehavam Zeevi, the Israeli transport minister, in 2001, the newspaper said.

At the time, Mr. Zeevi reportedly had dismissed his bodyguards. This time, security measures are being tightened around ministers “whether they liked it or not,” the source said.

Israeli settlement activity did not always operate in this charged atmosphere. After the 1967 Six-Day War, when the Arab world declined Israel’s offer to return most of the land it captured in return for peace treaties, the left-wing Labor government began establishing settlements along strategic lines.

On the West Bank, this meant primarily settlements in the desert-like lower Jordan Valley to create a barrier against incursions across the Jordan River by Arab guerrillas or armies.

The government for the most part avoided the hill country, which forms the mass of the West Bank and in which the Palestinian population is concentrated.

With the ascendency of the hard-line Likud government under Menahem Begin in 1977, those priorities were reversed. The hill country is the biblical heartland and Likud trumpeted the return of Israel to its roots by building scores of settlements among the Arab towns and villages in the area.

Thousands of religious and nationalist Jews settled in these communities, creating an ideological subculture distinct from that prevailing in the rest of Israel. For many settlers, the spectacular victory of the Six-Day War and the return to sites still bearing their biblical names heralded the approach of the Messiah.

Thousands of other Israelis were drawn to settlements not by ideological motives, but by the quality of life they offered — tree-lined suburbs with wonderful views.

Roughly half the settlers today are regarded as “ideological,” meaning they can be expected to resist any attempt to uproot them.

In 1982, when the Likud government abandoned settlements in Sinai as part of the peace treaty with Egypt, large numbers of troops were needed to evacuate the settlers.

Mr. Sharon, in various ministerial posts, drove Jewish settlers to move to the West Bank for ideological reasons. He pushed contractors, government agencies and settler groups into creating outposts on the ground as rapidly as possible.

Settlers believed that whatever obstructions might be raised by the international community, the Israeli government would find a way to keep on building settlements until it would become a physical impossibility to have a Palestinian state with contiguous territory.

Settlers and their supporters therefore watched with dismay this week as Mr. Sharon maneuvered his Cabinet into supporting creation of a Palestinian state.

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