Obama must stand up to Netanyahu on Israeli settler violence
The US State Department recent called Israeli settler violence against Palestinians 'terrorist incidents.' Though a step in the right direction, the label fails to highlight the Israeli government's responsibility for these human rights violations. Washington must take a bold stand.
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There is increasing evidence to suggest that the Israeli government has been taking a passive and complicit role in dealing with settler terrorism. Dan Halutz, former Israeli Army chief of staff, recently told the Israeli Army radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is not doing enough to stop settler violence. “If we wanted, we could catch them and when we want to, we will,” Mr. Halutz said. Furthermore, Haaretz and Channel 2 television reported in February 2012 that an Israeli justice minister was caught on tape advising right-wingers on how to seek pardons for Jewish terrorists – which he might later approve.Skip to next paragraph
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A March 2012 report by senior European Union officials said that “[d]iscriminatory protections and privileges for settlers compound...abuses and create an environment in which settlers can act with apparent impunity.” The report said these and other actions have created the perception that “settler violence enjoys the tacit support of the state of Israel.”
Successive Israeli governments of all ideological stripes – left, right, and center – can be held responsible for perpetuating the root causes of settler terrorism by creating and nurturing the settlement movement in the West Bank. They have largely pursued or refused to fully curb this policy, despite international consensus on the illegality of building those settlements.
The US government has been right to consistently oppose Israeli policies on settlements as a serious obstacle to achieving peace and stability in the region. However, the US failure to back up that rhetoric with action has helped create the monster of settler terrorism that is now proving so difficult to contain. While President Obama made the right decision in demanding a settlement freeze, his failure to back up his demand allowed the Netanyahu government to launch the most aggressive settlement policy to date.
Settlement activities in the Palestinian territories pose a structural threat to US interests in the Middle East. As such, Washington must not shy away from confronting them. The US State Department listing settler attacks as “terrorist incidents” clearly indicates a concern that such attacks may trigger a response from the Palestinians that could push the area into a new cycle of violence, something the United States cannot afford at a time of major upheaval and turmoil throughout the region.
The State Department’s decision to designate settler violence in the West Bank as terrorism presents an opportunity and a challenge for US interests in the Middle East. It is an opportunity for Washington to correct the historic mistake of accommodating Israeli settlement policies that are inherently hostile to the regional stability the US seeks. However, to effectively address the problem, the US must deal with its root cause: the Israeli government’s systematic expansion of settlements in the Palestinian territories. In order for that regional stability to be secured, my driver must feel safe while trying to make his daily wage, and the Ghayatha family must feel assured that they will never again be attacked while driving home.