Israel to cut West Bank settler funds after clashes

Israel’s departing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced measures Nov. 2 in response to a rise in violence by extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank, including a halt to all government financing of “illegal” Jewish settlement outposts. The announcement amounted to an acknowledgment that public funds are still being spent on the outposts, contrary to government policy and a longstanding pledge to the US. However, the move applies only to some 100 outposts considered illegal under Israeli law—not to the more than 120 “official” settlements.

The move follows a warning by Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Beth intelligence agency, that extremist settler groups could use violence to thwart any deal to hand over the West Bank to the Palestinians. “We discern a willingness among the far-right to resort to using guns in order to prevent progress in the diplomatic process,” Diskin told Olmert. His comments came as Israel marked the anniversary of the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Israeli settlers and security forces clashed for the fourth time in less than two weeks Nov. 1. Olmert said before the Nov. 2 cabinet meeting: “There is a not insignificant group of outlaws that are behaving in a manner that is threatening the rule of law. This is an intolerable situation that we refuse to accept.”

Teenage settlers hurled rocks at border police near Hebron in the Nov. 1 clashes, slightly injuring two. A representative from the local settler council said the police had sparked the latest fighting by beating a 10-year-old settler child. “The child wanted to cross a roadblock… Those who strike our children have to know that we won’t turn the other cheek,” said Itamar Ben Gvir.

Border police spokesman Moshe Pinchi said he had no knowledge of the alleged beating and accused the settlers of “cynically” sending minors to attack the police. Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the violence a “grave phenomenon that no viable society should tolerate.”

Dov Lior, the head rabbi of the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, compared Israeli security forces to “the Nazis in Poland” during World War II. “The Nazis also woke people up in the middle of the night and deported them. At that time also we were driven from our homes for no reason other than that we were Jewish,” he said.

The government directly referenced the rabbi’s remarks in its decision to sever funding to the outposts, saying it would “examine whether state employees are involved in incitement and bring them to justice.”

More than 260,000 Israelis live in government-authorised settlements across the West Bank, with another 200,000 in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following the 1967 war. (AlJazeera, NYT, Nov. 3)

See our last post on Palestine and the West Bank.