Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Rise Of Jewish Settler Terrorism

Daniel Byman and Natan Sachs tell "Foreign Affairs" 

Radical Jewish activists have staged politically motivated attacks against Palestinians and pro-peace Israelis before. In the early 1980s, for example, one group, known as the Jewish Underground, carried out a series of bombings against Arab mayors and shot three Arab students in the West Bank. And in 1995, an Israeli law student, Yigal Amir, assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, dealing a devastating blow to the peace process. Israeli authorities have investigated and prosecuted those involved in these operations, and they have disrupted other attacks before they could occur. Yet they have failed to stem less dramatic violence, such as arson and assault. 
According to UN investigations, in 2011, extremist settlers launched almost 300 attacks on Palestinian property, causing over 100 Palestinian casualties and destroying or damaging about 10,000 trees of Palestinian farmers. The UN has also reported that violent incidents against Palestinians have proliferated, rising from 200 attacks in 2009 to over 400 in 2011. The spike in assaults on Palestinians by settlers has come despite the fact that over the same period, Palestinian terrorism fell dramatically.
 "Terrorism" is defined not only by the act itself but also by its purpose: to produce a psychological effect, terror, as a means of advancing a political agenda. This definition fits the aim of extremist settlers, who often scrawl the Hebrew words for "price tag" at the scene of the crime -- a message to their targets that they will exact a price for any act that they oppose. Such attacks target innocent Palestinians a deterrent, pro-peace Israelis, and Israeli soldiers alike for supposedly anti-settlement measures taken by the Israeli government. By seeking to frighten a rival population and intimidate a government, the extremists mimic the typical methods of terrorist groups across the globe.
The "price tag" doctrine has thus raised the cost of even token settlement removals. The violence has conditioned Israeli politicians to worry that any pullout, whether as part of a peace agreement or as a unilateral measure, will lead to conflict. That puts the government in a bind. If it ignores the radicals, they will undermine its authority and any Palestinian goodwill that might result from a withdrawal. Confronting them, however, risks public spectacles of armed police dragging conservatively dressed young girls out of their homes, a political disaster for any Israeli government.
…The Israeli government does not support or condone settler violence, but it has failed to adequately combat it. Soldiers have been known to look on as violence occurs, and they sometimes do not aggressively seek the perpetrators after the fact. According to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, of 781 incidents of settler abuse monitored since 2005, Israeli authorities closed the cases on over 90 percent of them without indictment.
With the peace process frozen, what happens under Israeli control matters more, not less. With Israel likely to govern parts of the West Bank for some time, it can no longer shirk its obligations -- to protect not only its own citizens but Palestinian civilians as well -- by claiming that a two-state solution is on the horizon and that the Palestinians will soon assume full responsibility over themselves. And if Israel wants to preserve the possibility of a negotiated peace, it must address this problem before it is too late. 
Whenever extremist settlers destroy Palestinian property or deface a mosque, they strengthen Palestinian radicals at the expense of moderates, undermining support for an agreement and delaying a possible accord. Meanwhile, each time Israeli leaders cave in to the demands of radical settlers, it vindicates their tactics and encourages ever more brazen behavior, deepening the government's paralysis. 

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