WASHINGTON JEWISH WEEK
What took so long?
At its weekly meeting on Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet voted to end financing of unauthorized settlements in the West Bank. For those who believe in the rule of law -- as well as people who hope for an eventual two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict -- the question that should be asked of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his colleagues is: What took you so long?
It is no accident that at the same meeting, the head of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, warned that Jewish extremists pose a threat to Israeli political leaders seeking peace with the Palestinians. For anarchy is often the handmaiden for political violence.
Radical settlers recently have been taking the law into their own hands, reportedly attacking Palestinian farms and villages, vandalizing property and injuring people, and last week clashing with Israeli troops that were sent to remove an illegal house built near Hebron. And, in September, Hebrew University professor Ze'ev Sternhell -- a leading peace advocate -- was wounded by a pipe bomb left at his home by extremists.
These acts of anarchy follow years of the uncontested building of more than 100 hilltop settlements by radicals, and "indirect" financing by the government of the infrastructure for these outposts that the same government has pledged to remove. This folly is not only expensive -- each inhabited hilltop needs a paved road, water, electricity, telephone lines, etc., -- but may even provoke violence by some Palestinians who see mini-settlements as putting to rest the idea of a Palestinian state.
It's not only money wasted and prospects for peace derailed, but the rule of law in the Jewish state itself that is endangered. Permitting the continuing building of illegal outposts, not to mention subsidizing them in violation of the government's own agreements, promotes the impression that the no one is in control and that anything goes.
Such sentiments can lead to political violence and endanger democracy. This week marks 13 years since an Israeli zealot felt empowered to murder a political leader -- Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin -- with whose policies he disagreed.
Proposals also were reportedly discussed at the Cabinet meeting to combat Jewish violence in the territories, including an increase in the number of law enforcement personnel, arrests and the use of administrative detention against those who flout the law.
It's time for the government to crack down on these ideological outlaws before their violence claims another Israeli martyr.