Brother-in-law calls Netanyahu a traitor

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The Independent Online
The brother-in-law of Benjamin Netanyahu has attacked the Israeli prime minister as a traitor for planning to redeploy Israeli troops out of most of the West Bank city of Hebron.

As a deal drew nearer on the much-delayed handover of Hebron to Palestinian rule, Hagi Ben-Artzi, brother of Mr Netanyahu's wife and already a West Bank settler, announced that he was joining the 400 hard-line Israelis living in the centre of the city. "A prime minister who will abandon Hebron, the city of the patriarchs, will go down in Israeli history as an utter disgrace," he said.

Spurning an attempt by the prime minister's office to persuade him to keep silent Mr Ben-Artzi, who has been living in the Beit El settlement north of Jerusalem, was expected to take over an apartment in the Jewish enclave of Avraham Avinu in the heart of Hebron yesterday. He says the agreement being formulated with the Palestinians is a "total betrayal of the commitment made by Bibi [Netanyahu] and the Likud [the governing right-wing party] to the voter."

Hagi is the brother of Sara Netanyahu, Mr Netanyahu's third wife, whose abrupt dismissal of two nannies - one for burning the soup - has already gained her notoriety in Israel. Hitherto an obscure figure, Mr Ben-Artzi's anger reflects the bitterness of the extreme settler right as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators move towards an agreement under which Hebron will be effectively partitioned, with the Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat taking over 80 per cent of the city. The Israeli army will retain control of 20 per cent.

Politically Mr Ben-Artzi and the most extreme of the settlers are isolated, but in the past this has spurred them to acts of violence. In 1994 Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn-born doctor living in Kiryat Arba, a settlement overlooking Hebron, walked into al-Ibrahimi mosque and shot to death 29 Palestinian worshippers. A memorial to his memory has been built at Kiryat Arba. Yigal Amir, who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, a year ago, organised students from his university to visit Hebron to show solidarity with the settlers.

In the settler headquarters in central Hebron yesterday Major General Oren Shachor, the government coordinator of activities in the territories, was briefing its leaders about the likely shape of the agreement with the Palestinians. But an incident which occurred as General Shachor was entering the building does not augur well for good relations between the 400 settlers and their 100,000 Palestinian neighbours.

The settlers objected to the presence of Palestinian journalists covering General Shachor's visit. Nasser Shoukhi, a reporter for the AP news agency, said he was told: "You are an Arab. You are making the place dirty."

Even though the Palestinian journalists showed their Israeli government press office identity cards, the police ejected them at the request of the settler leaders.

Palestinians in Hebron feel it is they who need protection from the settlers and not the other way round. Later in the afternoon two settlers opened fire with sub-machine guns at Palestinian houses near al-Ibrahimi mosque claiming that stones were thrown at them.

Mr Netanyahu himself later met Hebron settler leaders and, as an apparent sop to settler opinion, the government is to allow 3,000 apartments on the West Bank to go on sale.

An agreement between Palestinian and Israeli leaders on Hebron appears close. Israel insists the right of its troops to enter the Palestinian part of Hebron, and a limit on the weapons Palestinians can carry.

Mr Ben-Artzi, in a protest against redeployment, is resigning from Likud, and says that if there is a need to overthrow the government he will take part in it. He says he had he decided that Mr Netanyahu had betrayed his principles after Mr Arafat allegedly made a speech last Wednesday calling for a jihad (holy war).

Mr Ben-Artzi adds: "I cannot forget that I opened the way for him to go to rabbis in the religious Zionist movement." He assured them that his brother-in-law would not betray Hebron.