Attacks by the ultrationalists involve torching Palestinian olive groves and spray-painting bigoted graffiti on mosques and churches, as well as armed raids into West Bank villages. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah
Israel rejects Jewish extremist group's terrorist tag, despite hate crimes
RAMALLAH // Israel's refusal to classify Jewish ultranationalists as terrorists, behind a wave of racially motivated attacks, will only encourage more assaults, Palestinian officials said yesterday.
Israel's cabinet on Sunday expanded law-enforcement powers to investigate perpetrators of so-called "price-tag" attacks that target Palestinians in the West Bank and more recently, inside Israel.
Such attacks, which have escalated, are carried out by extremist Jews to avenge restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The attacks involve torching Palestinian olive groves and spray-painting bigoted graffiti on mosques and churches, as well as armed raids into West Bank villages.
But the Israel prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected categorising price-tag perpetrators as terrorists because it "would be a diplomatic mistake to do so", Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported.
Citing officials believed present at Sunday's cabinet meeting, the newspaper reported that Mr Netanyahu did not disagree in principle with the terrorist designation, but feared that applying such a label "would damage Israel's international standing, increase its delegitimisation and encourage various groups across the world to compare price-tag attacks to rocket fire or Hamas suicide attacks".
Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organisation's negotiations department, rejected that logic, which he said only encouraged Jewish extremists.
"These are organised attacks that have been fostered by a culture of hate that has been financed and implemented by the Israeli government itself," he said, calling price-tag incidents "terrorism, plain and simple".
Palestinian and Israeli rights groups accuse Israeli authorities of investigating price-tag incidents haphazardly, and details of how the enhanced powers granted to law enforcement agencies and the defence ministry would be used to combat such violence were not disclosed by officials.
A statement released by Mr Netanyahu's office said his cabinet ultimately opted to classify price-tag assailants as members of an "illegal association".
This designation allows law enforcement officials to confiscate property and financial assets of suspects but falls short of the enhanced interrogation and intelligence-gathering powers that a terrorism classification grants authorities under Israeli law, according to the Haaretz report.
Anan Atteereh, the Palestinian Authority's deputy governor of the West Bank city of Nablus, said Israel had to do far more to defend Palestinians against the recent surge of settler attacks.
Residents of the 37 settlements and wildcat settler outposts in Nablus carry out roughly four attacks a day against scores of Palestinian villagers in the northern West Bank, much of which falls under direct Israeli control, she said.
"These are superficial, insufficient measures and they do nothing for what is needed to properly tackle the scale of the crimes being committed," she said of the Israeli-cabinet decision.
"These attacks are not accidental - this is an organised campaign."
Israel's anti-settlement watchdog Yesh Din said that since 2005, Israeli authorities had issued only 62 indictments from 869 investigations involving settler attacks against Palestinians.