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Ever since Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, the mainstream of the settlers has accused Israeli society of unfairly placing on them the blame for the despicable deed. The settlers' council and its spokesmen claim that the late prime minister was killed at the initiative of a single person, and that the menacing atmosphere against Rabin, created as a result of the Oslo Accords, had no direct effect on Yigal Amir's decision to assassinate him. The same holds true of the rabbis and politicians who played no minor part in the incitement against Rabin.

Now the settlers are being faced with a similar test, and they would do well to examine the way in which they are conducting their campaign of opposition to the disengagement plan, lest they find themselves without an alibi if it is foiled as a result of their behavior.

Two dangers loom over the disengagement plan's implementation: an extremist violent act perpetrated by individuals, or the thwarting of the plan as a result of active opposition by masses of people. The settler leaders' responsibility for a fatal campaign by individual fanatics - for example, an attempt on the life of the prime minister or an attack on the Temple Mount - would resemble their responsibility for preparing the ground for Rabin's assassination. They attach an aura of illegality to the authorized decisions of the government and the Knesset, and in this way create the backdrop against which the idea of foiling the disengagement plan by a murder, or a sensational attack, can be formed in someone's mind. How much more so when the possibility exists as a result of rabbinical rulings that censure the withdrawal from halakhic points of view.

The second danger is much more concrete, and responsibility for it would fall directly on the settler leaders and some well-known politicians in the right-wing camp. When Pinhas Wallerstein declares that he plans to go to Gush Katif to fend off withdrawal with his own body, when Effi Eitam calls for 150,000 people to flood the area from where the pullout is due to take place, when the official leaders of the Yesha council talk about an uncompromising struggle - even without the use of violence - against the security forces sent to carry out the government's decision, then they take upon themselves direct responsibility for the possibility that the disengagement plan will not come to fruition. They encourage acts aimed at disobeying state laws and thwarting the decisions of the authorized government.

It would be best for these people - who on the face of it are not extremist individuals furtively planning a violent campaign but rather the recognized representatives of a patriotic public - to be already now of the significance and ramifications of their positions. On the day after, if heaven forbid their aim is achieved and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria does not take place, no crocodile tears will help: They are declaring themselves right now as being responsible for the chaos that will prevail upon the country as a result of torpedoing the disengagement, whether by the murder of a public figure or another fatal step, if the Israel Defense Forces and police are not able to enforce the upper hand.

On the other hand, the mainstream of the public must show much greater tolerance toward the expressions of protest from the camp opposed to withdrawal. The proposals to enforce preventive administrative detentions or to open a criminal process for incitement every time there is a menacing remark or a report of a plan to create a provocation are too hasty, and indicate frayed nerves and preconceived notions. The settlers and their supporters are entitled to the same tolerance that Israeli society portrays toward other demonstrators, such as the Israel Electric Corporation workers, the "bread square" protesters and the ultra-Orthodox. No more, but also no less.

It is difficult to draw exact lines for legitimate protest, but the parameters of the law can be a guideline. The protesters are entitled to vent their hardship and dissatisfaction as long as they do not contravene the law; and in order for them to accept the state's authority, even when it is an extremely bitter pill to swallow, an attempt must be made to reach understanding with them on the rules of the game of protest, and to clarify to them the destructive consequences of revolting against authority.