Barak Boots Settlers; Not Enough for the PLO

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No mistaking who's in charge in Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Barak sent a platoon of soldiers and a bulldozer to the illegal Israeli settlement of Hava Maon in the West Bank Wednesday, to underline his eviction notice to a group of Jewish zealots who'd defied a deal struck by Barak and the settler movement leadership limiting new settlements. The spectacle of Israeli troops — who were given special psychological counseling before being sent into action against fellow Jews — strong-arming their country's religious right may be troubling to some Israelis, but unlike his mentor Yitzhak Rabin, Barak has carefully wooed the settler leadership with an inclusive approach. That resulted in a deal to destroy 12 settlements erected without government permission, but to leave standing a further 30. Acting firmly against the "Young Generation" group of settlers who defied their elders' accommodation with the authorities is therefore unlikely to damage Barak's domestic political standing — even the right-wing Likud government forcibly removed settlers from the Sinai in 1980 after concluding peace with Egypt.

While the Palestinians may be impressed with Barak's firm show of leadership, his move against the most extreme of the settlers is unlikely to win much Palestinian applause. After all, the future of settlements remains a key sticking point in the "final status" negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and Yasser Arafat's administration is more concerned with the 30 settlements Barak allowed to stand than with the 12 he's pulling down.