JERUSALEM - Israeli authorities could use special commando units, unmanned spy planes, and cell-phone-jamming equipment to enforce a moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bank, military officials said yesterday, deepening a showdown between the government and Jewish settlers.
Enraged settler leaders vowed to resist the plan, prompting Defense Minister Ehud Barak to warn that settlers would face the full wrath of the military if they continue to flout the 10-month halt in new construction.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the settlement slowdown last month in an attempt to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.
But the Palestinians have rejected the plan because it allows for construction to proceed in 3,000 settlement homes already under construction in the West Bank and does not affect East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will be their capital.
Nonetheless, settlers have repeatedly blocked inspectors and security forces trying to enter their communities to enforce the order. The resistance has grown increasingly violent.
The issue of settlements on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state is a key sticking point in Mideast peace efforts, with the Palestinians' demanding a halt to all settlement construction as a condition for returning to peace talks.
President Obama made a similar demand shortly after taking office, but he has since adopted a softer stance.
The military plan calls for the deployment of unmanned spy drones to photograph illegal construction, and would create closed military zones to keep out protesters and reporters during demolitions of illegal buildings, according to a military memo leaked to Israeli media.
The document said various units of the military would be used, including special forces, military police, and even communication specialists to jam settler cell phone frequencies.
The enforcement plan was drafted by the military's central command and most likely leaked by settler sympathizers within the army, according to military officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal orders not meant for public consumption.
Those same officials confirmed the plan to the Associated Press, though the army later said the plan was only a "first draft" for potential action.
The leak itself points to a growing concern among Israeli officials relating to insubordination.
A number of nationalist soldiers have refused to obey orders to act against settlers. The government has jailed defiant servicemen, issued stern warnings to rebellious rabbis and expelled one pro-settler seminary from a program combining religious study and military service.
It is also possible the authorities wanted the plan to be known, as it might help the government portray itself as willing to confront domestic opposition for the sake of peace.
About 300,000 settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to 180,000 Jewish Israelis living in East Jerusalem.
Israel admitted that in the 1990s, its forensic pathologists harvested organs from Israeli and Palestinian dead without their families' permission.
The issue emerged with the weekend broadcast of parts of a 2000 interview with the then-head of Israel's Abu Kabir forensic institute, Jehuda Hiss. The interview was conducted by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley.
She released it after controversy erupted in the summer over a Swedish newspaper's allegation that Israel killed Palestinians to harvest their organs. Israel hotly denied the charge. In response to the TV report, the Israeli military confirmed the practice but said, "This activity ended a decade ago and does not happen any longer."
Parts of the interview were broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 TV. In it, Hiss said: "We started to harvest corneas. . . . Whatever was done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family." The report said forensic specialists at Abu Kabir harvested skin, corneas, heart valves, and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers and citizens, Palestinians, and foreign workers, often without relatives' permission.
- Associated Press