Israel's Unsettling Settlers

Israel appears to be preparing for open conflict with itself next spring, one that need not happen in a democracy.

This week, leaders of the Jewish settlers on the West Bank and Gaza declared they will use civil disobedience, even physically charging police, to block a government plan to resettle some 8,000 of them back into Israel proper as part of a broad peace effort. Those leaders cite the works of Gandhi and Martin Luther King as their guide for this illegal resistance, but some settlers have already resorted to violence.

Israeli Radio reported that a few West Bank settlers disconnected the water supply to an Israel Defense Forces outpost on Monday and punctured the tires of a military jeep. And no Israeli can forget the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an ultranationalist Jew. The current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has beefed up his personal security as he pushes his limited settler-withdrawal plan.

Meanwhile, the Israeli police and army are taking special training and extraordinary steps to achieve a peaceful evacuation and to meet this resistance from possibly tens of thousands of settlers who claim those territories as Israel's rightful heritage.

They're undergoing both physical and mental training - the latter by behavioral scientists to help troops cope with possibly harming fellow citizens in a cause many may believe in themselves. Nonlethal weapons will be used, and the government is even thinking of setting up mock buildings for practice evacuations.

For more than a decade, Israelis had known this day would come, and dreaded it. But in the grand scheme to trade land for peace with the Palestinians, many, if not all of the settlements must eventually go.

Israeli prosecutors often have been lenient toward settlers who've acted violently against Palestinians. But now that sort of leniency needs to end if the majority of Israelis will ever be able to achieve their democratic goal of creating a Palestinian state for the sake of peace.

The targeted settlers lost their cause in a democratic way and are being offered ample compensation to move out. But even if they resist peacefully, they must not incite other settlers to commit violence.

Just as Iraq's election could be a catalyst for Middle East peace, so too could Israel's peaceful removal of its Jewish settlements.

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