Shlomo Livman and Harel Binoun were guarding the West Bank Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, just outside the Palestinian city of Nablus, when they were killed early yesterday.
In what appears to have been a planned ambush, their pickup truck was riddled with bullets. Israeli police said one of the attackers used an ax.
The killings quickly drew demands by the Israeli right wing to freeze all negotiations with the Palestinians until they hand over the perpetrators.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to meet yesterday with his 12-member Security Cabinet to discuss the possibility of cutting off talks. Palestinian leaders warned that if there was no boost for peace soon, it would become harder to prevent attacks like yesterday's.
Mr. Livman and Mr. Binoun were both students at a Nablus religious seminary near a grave that Orthodox Jews say is the tomb of Joseph, Jacob's son.
The yeshiva has often been a flashpoint of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, because it requires the Israeli army to keep an outpost inside a city of 100,000 that is meant to be under the exclusive control of the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinians resent this as an extension of Israel's occupation, and even many Israelis see the Joseph Yet Lives yeshiva as a tinderbox of extremists who unnecessarily endanger their own lives - as well as the lives of the troops who have to protect them.
Peace talks were just beginning to ease out of a 16-month deadlock, during which Israel has rejected American and Palestinian proposals to withdraw from another portion of the West Bank. Israeli hard-liners say that a substantial redeployment would jeopardize Israel's security needs.
Livman himself never felt unsafe here. In an interview inside the yeshiva compound in April, he said he had moved to Yitzhar to be closer to Joseph, to whom he felt a special connection.
He studied at the yeshiva for six years, and was considered its most promising student. He had just returned home from the yeshiva late Tuesday night when he went on guard duty.
"We feel at home here," Livman had said during the interview. The tall, thin man with a dark beard expressed deep ideological convictions about living in the "Land of Israel," including the West Bank land that Palestinians claim as the heartland of their future state.
"Security is a matter of feeling," he said. "We need to be in areas that are important for Jews to be in, whether it's dangerous or not. I don't really see this as an Arab area. Would it make sense for Joseph to be buried among the Arabs?"