Israel's defense minister has ordered the army to use massive force to impose a freeze on construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In the event of violent protests, troops will isolate areas set for demolition and jam the cell phones of settlers. Elite anti-terrorist units will be deployed, and the air force will carry out reconnaissance missions.
The plan drew angry reaction from settlement leaders like Benny Katzover
Katzover told Israel Radio that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has declared war on the settlers, as if they are enemies of the state. He said the settlers "only sin is that they want to build their homes." He described Barak as a war criminal.
Israel's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly imposed the settlement freeze last month, under pressure from the United States, which sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace. Since then, there have been angry protests by the settlers, and inspectors trying to enforce the freeze have been attacked.
At the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, right-wing ministers condemned the army plan, including Silvan Shalom of Mr. Netanyahu's Likud party.
"I think we are not in a war with the settlers, and we should do everything we can in order to reach an agreement in order to prevent any kind of deterioration in the region," he said.
But Prime Minister Netanyahu has to accommodate his coalition partners in the dovish Labor Party, including its leader, Defense Minister Barak. Labor supports dismantling settlements in exchange for peace with the Palestinians; and Barak, a former general and army chief of staff, says Israel is a state of law and lawbreakers will be punished.