Netanyahu Targets Violent Segment of West Bank Settlers

December 16, 2011

By Calev Ben-David and Jonathan Ferziger

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — Israel took new steps to crack down on violence by Jewish-settlement activists after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said their actions against soldiers and security forces had “crossed all lines.”

The measures announced yesterday, including banning some offenders from their homes in the West Bank, trying them in military courts and bolstering use of the Shin Bet security service in investigating attacks by Jews, came after dozens of settlers stormed an army base this week and threw rocks at soldiers.

The settler community is one of the government’s main sources of political support. Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians have been suspended since last year over Netanyahu’s refusal to accede to demands by the Palestinian Authority, and pressure from the international community, to renew a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements.

“While there are some risks that part of Netanyahu’s core constituency will object” to the steps he is taking, “these are minimal as compared to a few months ago because most Israelis across the board have had enough of this unlawful and dangerous behavior,” said Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. “I think Netanyahu has been waiting for an opportunity to take action when the political costs would be very low.”

Targeting Mosques

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the incidents “have the characteristics of homegrown terror.” President Shimon Peres called the actions at the army base “crazy” and met with settler leaders in a bid to get them to stop the violence.

During the past year a number of mosques were targeted in arson attacks, Palestinian homes and vehicles have been damaged and army bases have been broken into and vandalized by so-called hilltop youth, Jewish settlers who have set up West Bank outposts that haven’t been authorized by Israel. Some of their leaders have warned of a “price tag” policy in which any threatened evacuation by the government is met with acts of violence that have been directed primarily against Palestinians.

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