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Pro-settlement attacks by Israeli militants endanger any hope of peace

By Trudy Rubin

JERUSALEM - When Hagit Ofran woke up Tuesday - within days of the 16th anniversary of the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin - she found death threats spray-painted on her door.

"You are dead. Ofran, Rabin is waiting for you," was the message scrawled in red against the white walls of her stairwell.

This was the latest of the so-called Price Tag attacks that Jewish militants have carried out against peace activists, Palestinians, and Israeli security forces. The attacks often follow any government move to dismantle Jewish settlements on the West Bank. They are meant to convince Israel's leaders that it's too costly to remove any more settlements - thus blocking any negotiated peace.

Ofran monitors the expansion of West Bank settlements for Peace Now - a group that seeks a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Peace Now's Jerusalem office received a bomb threat last week.) A calm, focused woman, who is the granddaughter of famed Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, she carries a camera and notebook to document new settlement construction.

When I asked why she does it, she replied swiftly: "I think it's crucial for the State of Israel and the future of the Jewish people that occupation must stop." The more the settlements expand, she said, the less likely any peace deal. "That's why I'm doing what I'm doing."

I drove with Ofran around the West Bank as she checked on illegal outposts, the 100 or so small settlements set up in violation of Israeli law. Small clusters of trailers scattered atop hillsides, with outbuildings and cellphone towers, they expand the grid of more than 120 official Jewish settlements that divide West Bank territory into cantons. This makes a contiguous Palestinian state less and less likely.

We drove on special highways built for settlers that were off-limits to Palestinians and that further divide the West Bank.

Israel pledged years ago, in several international agreements, to dismantle all illegal outposts built after March 2001. But despite the removal of a few trailers, none of the outposts has been demolished. And it's obvious why.

Young radical settlers are determined not to repeat their elders' acquiescence to the 2005 dismantlement of settlements in Gaza. In the infamous 2006 case of Amona outpost, where only nine dwellings were demolished, thousands of so-called Hilltop Youth clashed violently with police.