JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday his government would throw all its might against those resisting the dismantling of Jewish settlements, his sternest warning yet to opponents of his plan to pull out of Gaza and part of the West Bank this summer.
Sharon’s warning came two days after settlers clashed with soldiers at an unauthorized West Bank outpost, a possible prelude to confrontations when Israeli forces move in to take apart veteran settlements for the first time in Israel’s 34-year occupation.
“They shouldn’t dare to even raise a hand against a policeman or a soldier,” Sharon said in a meeting with soldiers who clashed with settlers Monday. “We will act against (them) with all our might.”
Also yesterday, Sharon won an important political victory when the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party decided to join his reshuffled government, giving him a parliamentary majority for the first time since last summer.
With UTJ, the moderate Labor Party and his own Likud Party, Sharon’s new team will have 66 of the 120 seats in parliament. His hard-line coalition fell apart over opposition to the pullout plan.
Sharon told the Likud Party yesterday that he hopes for quick approval of his new government.
“I believe that already next week I can present the parliament a new coalition that will lead the state of Israel,” Sharon said.
On Monday, settlers threw rocks and scuffled with troops while slashing the tires of their vehicles in a confrontation at Yitzhar, a known center for extremist settlers in the northern part of the West Bank — an incident seen as a precursor to resistance to the planned summer pullout.
Two settler leaders are being investigated on suspicion of inciting soldiers to disobey orders, the Justice Ministry said yesterday. One is Noam Livnat, whose brother, Limon, is education minister from the Likud Party.
A soldier who called on his unit to disobey orders during the melee was sentenced Wednesday to 28 days in a military lockup. It was the first instance of a soldier refusing to obey an evacuation order, the military said.
The level of violence by settlers against their own soldiers shocked the nation. One soldier fired his rifle in the air. Settler leaders warn that hundreds and perhaps thousands of soldiers will refuse to take part, officially opposing the trend but advocating resistance, even breaking the law, to stop the removal of settlements.
Amnon Strassnov, a former army prosecutor and retired district court judge, said those defying orders to evacuate “should be tried and put behind bars. The justice system, both civilian and military, should take these matters extremely seriously.”
Though settlers make up about 3 percent of Israel’s population, and religious and nationalist extremists are a small minority among the settlers, the possibility of violence is taken seriously.
The Haaretz daily newspaper printed a lengthy examination of the threat over the weekend, concluding that extremists might try to attack the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest site, or assassinate Sharon in desperate attempts to stop the withdrawal.
A senior government official said on condition of anonymity that Sharon will pursue all legal means to enforce the pullout — including arrests, imprisonment of dissenters and possible confiscation of settlers’ weapons.
Some members of Sharon’s Cabinet have said opponents suspected of planning violence should be detained without charge — an emergency measure usually used for suspected Palestinian militants.
Settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein accused Sharon of launching a smear campaign against the settler movement.
“The prime minister is a provocateur. He is doing things to make the settlers hated by the nation of Israel,” Wallerstein said.
Also yesterday, Mahmoud Abbas, the leading candidate for Palestinian president, received an enthusiastic welcome from backers of his mainstream Fatah Party in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, four days before Palestinians choose a successor to Yasser Arafat.