There is a lot riding on how yesterday's standoff in Hebron between authorities and post-Zionist settler extremists ultimately plays out. Though no one was gravely wounded, the violent evacuation of Beit Hashalom, and the events leading up to it, again exposed the depth of the chasm that divides our society. To their credit, the leaders of the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Kadima and Labor had united in calling on Hebron's Jewish residents not to employ physical or verbal violence. Let history record that no other Knesset party joined in this proclamation. Like the couple that fights endlessly over whether the husband or wife should take out the rubbish, only to discover in marriage counseling, coming too late, that their whole relationship is crumbling, Israelis have been obsessing over yet another controversial Hebron building - when what is actually at stake is something far greater. AS THE extremists were ejected from the building, security forces outside not only had to separate Jewish and Palestinian rock-throwers, but also remove from the scene other protesters engaged in non-violent civil disobedience. We unreservedly condemn settlers behaving badly in recent days, hurling rocks and verbal abuse at security personnel - to whom, in the blink of an eye, they might need to turn to for protection. We condemn extremists for instigating altercations with the local Arab population; for desecrating mosques, dwellings and vehicles (not just in Hebron), and even cemeteries. And we feel nothing but contempt for those who allegedly stabbed an east Jerusalem Arab returning home from work on Wednesday. Many of those responsible for the Hebron violence, both yesterday and in recent weeks, are out-of-control youths who gravitated to this trouble-spot encouraged by their spiritual authorities and political mentors. They are pumped-up on Vitamin M - messianic madness. The anti-Zionist Natorei Karta opposes the state because God hasn't yet sent the messiah; post-Zionist settler extremists, dropouts from the national religious camp, have come to oppose the state because they interpret its polices as contrary to the will of God. Hence their actions. Jewish extremists from nearby Kiryat Arba responded to the evacuation by going on a rampage against Arab individuals and property in the Hebron area. Radical settlers want to prevent Israeli authorities viewing the Hebron events as a precedent. Further retaliation could take the form of relatively harmless civil disobedience, such as blocking traffic - or, far more ominously, attempts by a radical fringe to ignite a holy war throughout the entire West Bank by goading Palestinian Arabs into relaunching their armed intifada. THERE'S an irreconcilable disconnect between those who would engage in or rationalize settler violence and mainstream Israel; between those who have disengaged from our - admittedly imperfect - Zionist enterprise, its army and polity, and the majority who want the rule of law upheld even when, to borrow from Dickens, "the law is an ass." Our overriding opposition is to anarchy and mob rule. Citizens are obligated to respect lawful decisions, such as those of the Supreme Court, even when they vehemently disagree with them. To set the record straight, the court acted when the settlers brought the matter to them, after the police belatedly ordered the evacuation of the disputed house. The justices didn't "order" the settlers evicted since the state had already done so. All the court did was uphold the state's stance. Meanwhile, this newspaper continues to wonder what is delaying the Jerusalem District Court from ruling on the substance of the dispute: lawful ownership of the house. Needless to say, the outcome of the lower court's decision, when it comes, must be respected. We have been less than impressed with Defense Minister Ehud Barak's handling of the crisis, specifically his decision to let matters simmer for three weeks after settler leaders announced they had no intention of leaving Beit Hashalom voluntarily. Let's not, meanwhile, lose sight of two other fundamentals. First, the vast majority of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding patriots. Secondly, in any and all circumstances, Jews must be guaranteed access to the Cave of the Patriarchs. The contemptible behavior of settler radicals does not negate this right. For long before Christianity and Islam came on the scene, Hebron was already a cornerstone of Jewish civilization.