When Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs on Purim 1994, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, with popular support behind him, wanted to evacuate Jewish settlers from their stronghold in Tel Rumeida in the heart of Hebron and from Kiryat Arba. He consulted with Ehud Sprinzak, an expert on right-wing extremism, who advised against it with the warning that such a move would prompt an outpouring of protest - perhaps a violent one - from other settlers. And so, Rabin abandoned the idea. The massacre prompted a commission of national inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court justice Meir Shamgar. Acting swiftly, it concluded that the army had not sufficiently contained unprovoked settler violence against the surrounding Palestinian communities - only after some on the committee expressed surprise that such violence actually existed. Boker tov, Eliahu! Anyone, who has visited the West Bank - for even the shortest time - knows that the settlers have free rein of the territories. They are seldom held accountable for their excessive behavior. When violence erupts, not only against Palestinians, but also against the army or police, rarely is anyone arrested. Indeed, after the Goldstein massacre, it was the Palestinians in Hebron and environs who were placed under a hermetically sealed curfew - not the Jews in Tel Rumeida or Kiryat Arba, who praised Goldstein as a martyr. It is not only the army and police that seem to be in cahoots with the settlers, as well as commissions of inquiry like the Shamgar Committee, which only gave the settlers a slap on the wrist, but also the country's media. In the latest round of violent retaliation by settlers against the dismantlement of illegal settlements, the lead item in the print media and on TV were the settler attacks against the army and police. Nary was a word reported about the rampage that these same settlers went on against the Palestinians - including the desecration of Arab graves and physical assaults against them. Again, only a few of the Jewish settlers were taken into custody, questioned and then released without charges. NONE OF this is new. From the first day after the Six Day War, when Gush Emunim began seizing Palestinian territory to settle the "Promised Land," every Israeli government has bent its will to the settlers' chauvinistic claims of hegemony over the entire "Greater Land of Israel." One must keep in mind that Kiryat Arba and Gush Etzion were established during the first Rabin administration. The settlement movement gained a great ideological thrust when Menachem Begin came to power in 1977. As his first demonstrative step as prime minister, he paraded through Eilon Moreh, raising a Torah scroll on high, uttering his famous (or infamous) statement: "We will establish many more Eilon Morehs." It mattered little to Israeli lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle that the settlement policy was not only contrary to international law, but also, in many cases, to Israeli law. This basically meant that the government and all its ministries - Defense, Agriculture, Transportation, Education, National Infrastructure and Housing - became complicit partners in an illegal enterprise, thereby setting the stage for the rampant lawlessness that has dominated too many of the Jewish settlers' activities. In 1988, Moshe Levinger, a leader of the settler movement, shot dead store owner Khayed Salah and wounded a customer for the flimsiest of reasons. A plea bargain resulted in a charge of negligent homicide. When he was finally sentenced to five months in prison and seven months suspended, during which time he was allowed to attend a public event in Hebron and in actuality only served 92 days, it became clear to the settlers that the authorities would look the other way when they committed acts of violence against Palestinians. This all came on the heels of other charges that were brought against Levinger for violence against Palestinians. Drunk with delusions of grandeur, the settlers considered themselves the new pioneers, battling an intransigent enemy, protecting the home front and working the land, that is Palestinian land. Emboldened by a lenient judicial system and an indulgent security apparatus, over the years the settlers have been made to feel that whatever methods they employed to defend the purity of their cause - no matter how excessive - were legitimate. WELL, THE chickens have come home to roost, and it has become virtually impossible to silence the settlers' outrageous cockiness. The time has come for the army and police to stop complaining about the abuses of some settlers against them, and concentrate on their total disregard for the rule of law. Fear of settler reaction, no matter how real it is, cannot deter the government from reining them in. The use of a carrot-and-stick approach to curtail settler actions is no longer viable - as if it was ever practicable. It certainly is not feasible with a population that sees its mission to be divinely inspired. There is a celestial certitude in everything that the settlers do. With an absolute faith that God stands with them, they claim moral justification for their actions. Add to this the high level of leniency on the part of every government for their aggressive behavior, why should anyone be shocked when they attack not only Arabs, but also Jews - be they soldiers or police or Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell - or even assassinate a prime minister. What is called for on the part of the government, whether it is a right-wing or left-wing coalition, is an iron will, which means the dismantlement not only of every illegal settlement, but the disarming of the settlers. There should be a zero-tolerance policy. There can be no double standards in dealing with violators of the law, be they Arab or Jew. The intelligence community knows who the settlers' ringleaders are. There should be mass roundups of these hooligans, and they should be incarcerated until their trials. A strong message must be sent, for the stakes are extremely high if the settlers continue with their mini-reign of terror against those Palestinians who only want to harvest their grapes, pick their olives and cultivate their land. Settler violence sabotages any chance of peacemaking and will eventually lead to far greater violence on the part of Palestinians that could engulf the entire region, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to fester without any resolution in sight, which is unacceptable to the Arab nations, as well as to the Western world. No longer can Israel be held hostage by a fifth column of Jews whose actions, if unchecked, will lead us down the road to a proverbial hell.