It is not only fundamentalist Muslims who claim scriptural sanction for wrecking peace efforts between Israel and Arab nations. So do a minority of Orthodox Jews, especially in the settler movement on the West Bank, and their supporters elsewhere.
Just as Yasser Arafat and the PLO must deal with the violent extremists in Hamas in order to keep up their end of peace agreements with Israel, so must the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin face down the anarchistic sedition of those who would subvert Israel's army.
This is no secret. Mr. Rabin has criticized American "ayatollahs" for undermining any agreement to turn Palestinian land over to Palestinian rule. Now a more direct challenge comes from an edict issued by 15 Israeli rabbis associated with West Bank settlements that observant soldiers should disobey orders to evacuate military posts in the West Bank or turn over land to non-Jews.
It is aimed at torpedoing the agreement Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Mr. Arafat have pledged to reach by July 25 calling for Israeli military withdrawal from major Arab communities of the West Bank that will be turned over to the autonomous Palestinian state. Citing passages in the Torah, the rabbis call on soldiers to disobey orders they may shortly receive.
Fortunately, Mr. Rabin and the defense forces have received responsible support against the edict that was announced by Rabbi Haim Druckman. Israel's chief Ashkenazic rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, warned it could lead to anarchy. The leader of the
Likud opposition party, Benjamin Netanyahu, who denounces the peace agreement, says that Israel's soldiers should obey orders. President Ezer Weizman called it "unbelievable, in Israel, a democracy, that some small number of rabbis should take upon themselves the right to act against the law."
There is little doubt most Israelis, their distrust of the PLO notwithstanding, want the peace process to succeed. They have the same obligation Mr. Arafat and the PLO will have, in the event a second-phase agreement is reached, not to let an extremist minority in their own community wreck it.