Tension mounts in West Bank settlement

ELON MOREH, West Bank — From this Jewish settlement in the West Bank, calls are increasing for Israeli soldiers to cross a sacred line and defy orders to enforce a slowdown of Israeli construction on lands claimed by the Palestinians.

Anxious to preserve the army's role as the country's great unifier, Israeli authorities have jailed defiant soldiers, issued stern warnings to rebellious rabbis and recommended expelling one seminary from a program combining religious study and military service.

Though still on the fringes, the call to defiance points to the dilemma that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces in trying to mollify the Obama administration and draw the Palestinians back to peace talks by curtailing new settlement building in the West Bank for 10 months.

The Palestinians have not been lured. For them, the real issue is the half-million Jewish settlers already living in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, their expanding towns and villages eating away at the Palestinian dream of an independent state.

Palestinians and international critics are skeptical about Netanyahu's freeze, noting that work will continue on some 3,000 apartments and houses already approved and will proceed unimpeded in east Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to have their future capital.

Meanwhile, the settlers worry that it's the first step toward eventual eviction.

Extremists have taken to attacking Palestinians each time the government acts against settlers in a strategy known as the "price tag." That phrase was scrawled on the wall of a mosque not far from Elon Moreh that was attacked by vandals.

The settlement of 2,000 people stands in the area where, according to the Old Testament, God promised Abraham: "To your offspring I will give this land." Settlers regard it as one of the crown jewels of Israel's 40-year drive to populate the West Bank with Jews.