Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the cabinet on Sunday he was proud of the way the IDF has been dealing with lawbreakers in the West Bank under his watch, but was critical of the courts. "We must stiffen punishment for lawbreakers in Judea and Samaria," he said. "We see the light sentence handed down to Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, a two-month suspended sentence after being convicted of assaulting Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern. This is just one example in a long list of sentences indicating the court's lenient policy toward lawbreakers. This situation harms the deterrence of potential lawbreakers and prevents the uprooting of the phenomenon." Barak went on to say that under his watch, not a single new outpost had been built and that three had been dismantled. Barak's statements sound distinctly disingenuous - viewed from anywhere along the political spectrum. To look first at his self-praise over the illegal outposts, the fact is that many of those that are standing today were built under his watch, many of them retroactively "legalized" by him, while despite successive Israeli government promises to the US to demolish the outposts built since March 2001, virtually nothing has been done. As for Jewish extremism in the territories, successive Israeli governments, including Barak's, have done very little to impose law and order despite Israel's obligations to protect the civilian Palestinian population. Nine of 10 investigations into attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank are closed without indictments, according to a study by the human rights organization Yesh Din, which was based on 205 investigations involving assault, criminal trespass and property damage. Between 2006 and 2008, the rate of indictments has hardly changed. And it is not only human rights organizations devoted to the protection of the Palestinian civilian population that criticize the law enforcement authorities. Only last week, Orit Struck, a spokeswoman for Hebron's Jewish community and the Judea and Samaria human rights organization, charged that the security forces discriminate against the Jewish population in the territories and that in almost all parameters, the police and the courts are tougher on Jewish settlers than on the Israeli population inside the Green Line. There is urgent need for independent and objective research, and remedial action, to resolve these differences. IT IS no coincidence that the extreme fringe of the settler movement has become far more violent in the three years that have passed since Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip. This became clearly apparent during the violent clashes between police and settlers during the demolition of permanent structures built on Palestinian-owned land in Amona in 2006. Since this summer, there has been a marked increase in attacks against Palestinians by radical settlers, particularly in the areas of Hebron and Yitzhar. Recent violence has also been aimed on occasion at IDF soldiers. This, perhaps more than anything, has served as a wake-up call for Barak, the former army chief-of-staff. It should be added, however, that the defense minister and Labor Party leader's intensified public concern for law enforcement in the territories may also have something to do with his desperate need to distinguish himself from his political rivals in the Likud and Kadima on the eve of national elections. This latter consideration may explain his zeal to jail Ze'ev Braude, the man suspected of shooting two Palestinians on the day the disputed Beit Hashalom building in Hebron was shut down. Braude may be as dangerous as Barak has claimed in one court after another, beginning with Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, Jerusalem District Court and the Supreme Court. But none of the judges saw fit to remand Braude in custody before his trial begins. Perhaps in Barak's eyes, the Braude case is an example of what he means by the court being too soft. Ironically, however, after years of apparent indifference, in this case Barak may be acting too zealously, and not necessarily because of Braude himself.