- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

HAVAT GILAD, West Bank | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected President Obama’s demand for a freeze on West Bank Jewish settlement construction, but his government’s move to dismantle some squatter camps set off a rampage by Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

It was a violent reminder that Mr. Netanyahu is caught between his own hard-line supporters and Israel’s vital relationship with Washington. So far, Mr. Netanyahu has appeared sympathetic to the settlers, but protests over his limited West Bank policy spread as far as Jerusalem.

On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu briefed the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about his recent meeting with Mr. Obama. The president and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction, including expansion to accommodate what Israel calls “natural growth” of settlements.

Mr. Netanyahu said Israel cannot “freeze life” in settlements, according to a participant who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. Mr. Netanyahu was quoted as saying that “there are reasonable requests and unreasonable requests.”

At the same time, in an apparent gesture to Mr. Obama, Mr. Netanyahu’s government has begun dismantling small settler outposts built without formal government authorization.

Settlers have vowed to retaliate with attacks on Palestinians after removal of even the tiniest enclave - a tactic known as “price tag.”

“We will do everything we can to oppose this,” said settler Yehuda Shimon at the Havat Gilad outpost.

Monday’s violence started near the radical settlement of Yizhar, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. About 100 settlers blocked a road. Six were later arrested.

Before dawn, near the Kedumim settlement, stone-throwing settlers ambushed a minivan carrying Palestinian laborers to Israel, the workers said. Six of the 15 Palestinians on board were hurt, including Yahye Sadah, 44, who was hit in the head and needed six stitches.

Police said settlers threw rocks and burned tires and then fled. Police said no arrests were made.

A few hours later, settlers torched a wooded hilltop near Nablus and set trees and Palestinian agricultural land on fire near the village of Hawara, residents said.

Romel Sweiti, a local resident, said about 50 teenage settler girls gathered on a main road and blocked traffic as Israeli paramilitary police stood in the background.

Toward nightfall, about 20 young Jewish extremists briefly blocked the highway into Jerusalem by burning tires and a garbage bin, causing a huge rush hour traffic jam. Police dragged the youths away, arresting four.

One of the protesters, Menachem Novick, 28, said the goal was to press Mr. Netanyahu and his party to keep their campaign pledge to expand the settlements. “We want to give them a push to do what they were elected to do,” he said.

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