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Israeli settlers on warpath over Palestinian state

Israeli settlers in the West Bank say they are ready to stop the establishment of a Palestinian state even if the UN approved such step

AFP , Tuesday 13 Sep 2011
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Even if the UN grants membership to the Palestinians, Israeli settlers in the West Bank say they are ready to stop a Palestinian state becoming a reality on the ground.

Shaul Goldstein, head of the regional council for the Gush Etzion group of southern West Bank settlements, said settlers were prepared to help protect their land themselves rather than rely solely on the army.

"We must remain vigilant and know how to defend ourselves if necessary," said Goldstein, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

"We must assert our right on this land and stop thinking about the establishment of a Palestinian state, so that we can concentrate on ways to live as good neighbours with the Palestinians," he added.

The Palestinians will formally submit their request for United Nations membership to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on September 20 when world leaders begin gathering in New York for the 66th session of the General Assembly.

Israeli media have reported that the military has been training settler security teams to take on any wave of Palestinian unrest that may follow a UN endorsement of the membership bid, including in the use of tear gas and crowd control techniques.

Tension rose last week after Israeli troops demolished three homes in the settlement outpost of Migron, near Ramallah.

Hours later, the mosque in Qusra village, southeast of Nablus, was damaged when two tyres were set alight on its ground floor storage area, residents said, blaming Jewish settlers.

Hebrew graffiti on the outside walls included insults against the Prophet Mohammed, a Star of David, and the word "Migron."

Hardline settlers have adopted what they call a "price tag" policy under which they attack Palestinians and their property in response to Israeli government measures against settlements.

Since the Qusra incident, two more mosques and a Palestinian university have been daubed with similar Hebrew graffiti, cars have been torched and olive trees uprooted in attacks Palestinian security officials attribute to settlers.

The army says unidentified "vandals" have attacked military vehicles on a base near Ramallah, slashing tyres and spraying them with the words "price tag."

Sugar was also poured into the fuel tanks of two heavy machinery vehicles used in the Migron demolitions, wrecking their engines, the army said.

Likud MP Zeev Elkin, also a resident of the Gush Etzion district, believes the settlers "must pressure the Israeli authorities to give the Palestinians the message that they have much to lose in this membership request to the UN."

"The Palestinian Authority must understand that there will be a price to pay for this request that puts an end to agreements signed in the past," he said.

He was speaking at a parliamentary symposium entitled "Turning a threat into an opportunity to change the rules of the game," where radical settlers expressed their views.

The workshop was organised by Michael Ben Ari, a settler from the northern West Bank and legislator for the hardline National Union party.

"We need to erase the idea of a Palestinian state from people's minds and convince the world that Islam is a danger," he said.

He plans to lead settlers on what he says will be peaceful marches to Palestinian towns in response to planned Palestinian rallies.

Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba settlement and the Jewish enclave in neighbouring Hebron, gave a blessing to seminar participants with the hope that "there will never be another national entity on this land other than the Jewish people."

Proposals aired at the event included Israeli annexation of the West Bank, massive demonstrations, strikes by municipal employees, intensive training in self-defence, beefed up security measures and restrictions on Palestinians working in settlements.

Yonatan Yosef, a spokesman for Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem, said that they would not turn the other cheek if threatened by Palestinians.

"We are not Christians, we have to return a blow for a blow," he said.

There is a minority view from the Eretz Shalom (Land of Peace) group, which unites Palestinians with those settlers who see the UN diplomatic battle as an opportunity for peace.

"The recognition of a Palestinian state by the international community is good for Israel, for peace in the region and the world," said rabbi Menachem Froman, founder of Eretz Shalom at a recent meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

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