If the Middle East peace talks are to be saved, the Israeli government must respond to the Hebron massacre with politically painful action against militant West Bank Jewish settlers. Detaining five settlers, disarming others, expanding the proposed Palestinian police force and admitting international observers only begin to approach what is necessary.
Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn doctor and disciple of the violently militant Meir Kahane, entered a Hebron mosque last Friday and sprayed hundreds of praying Palestinians with an assault rifle, killing 39 and wounding more than 150. Survivors beat Goldstein to death. At his funeral, he was hailed by some as a righteous man. One rabbi declared: "One-million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail."
The man has been made a martyr by mindless zealots whose capacity for rage displaced their sense of humanity. Those who might try to emulate Goldstein are a fraction of the 130,000 Israelis who settled the West Bank and Gaza. Though small in number, they are a formidable force for endless war in the Middle East, and they must be neutralized quickly if the peace process is to continue and succeed.
The Israeli government must accept, and should acknowledge, its culpability for Hebron. For years, it encouraged the most militant among its people to settle the West Bank and Gaza as a gesture of its resolve never to return those captured lands toArab hands. It armed the settlers and told them to protect themselves. In fact, past governments used the zealotry of some settlers to stake a claim to the occupied territories.
Instead of taking weapons from a few fanatical settlers, the Israeli government should disarm Goldstein's entire village, with Israeli soldiers posted there to prevent violence from entering, or leaving. And while the subject is protection, the government should move quickly to afford Arabs living under its control the same measure of safety accorded its own citizens.
The government also is looking for a way to outlaw Kach and Kahane Chai, two of the militant groups that support zealots like Goldstein. The groups already have been barred from fielding political candidates. Now the Israelis want a legal means to stop members and supporters from immigrating.
Finally, Israel might convince Palestinians of the sincerity of its sorrow over the Hebron massacre by accelerating the process that would turn over to them all policing duties on the West Bank.
It would be a politically risky step for the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The backlash could be fierce, especially in the occupied territories. But backlash is nothing compared to the price both Jews and Arabs will pay if the peace process becomes the ultimate victim of Baruch Goldstein's madness.