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The intransigents of Hebron Peace talk stall: An Israeli warning against extremists taking charge of events.

THE REAL DANGER in the stalemate in talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at getting the peace process started anew has been identified by Michael Eitan, head of the Likud bloc in the Knesset supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Eitan warned over Israeli radio this week that extremists among the 400 Jewish settlers in Hebron could provoke a bloodbath,

He was citing praise among settlers for Baruch Goldstein, the American-Israeli who massacred 29 Palestinians praying at the Tomb of Abraham in 1994. Followers who wish to wreck the peace process that alienates ancient Judea speak of emulating him.

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The question arises just how much power the settlers of Hebron should have? Power to dictate Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors? Most Israelis don't think so. Most friends of Israel probably would be happy to see the comparative handful of settlers removed to communities in Israel.

Most Israelis, while annoyed by the settlers, have not been able to bring themselves to advocate their removal because of the history of Jewish residence in the town and because of an Arab massacre of Hebron's Jewish community in 1929. To some, however, the moral need for Jews to live in Hebron was nullified by Dr. Goldstein's revenge 65 years later.

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U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross said the two sides were close to agreement on implementing the commitment for Israeli forces to redeploy from Hebron, when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat went a-traveling to drum up international support. Mr. Netanyahu, while properly concerned for the security of settlers, is committed to fulfill the accord, as is Mr. Arafat.

Just as Mr. Arafat should not allow enemies in his ranks to derail his progress toward peace, neither should Mr. Netanyahu allow a few settlers to dictate his course. Mr. Eitan was speaking for many Israelis when he said of extremists, "Against these people, something must be done."

Pub Date: 10/31/96


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