As Mideast talks begin, Palestinians find unlikely support from Jewish settlers
A small but growing group of Israeli settlers is seeking to bridge the volatile divide with their Palestinian neighbors as Mideast talks begin in Washington.
Walaja, West Bank
In Pictures The Israeli separation barrier: A West Bank wall
In Pictures Israeli settlements
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One of the more unusual proposals came from Rabbi Menachem Froman: In order to move negotiations forward in an amiable atmosphere, why not send a delegation of rabbis to the West Bank to wish Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian people long life?
Rabbi Froman, whose suggestion contrasted starkly with a prominent rabbi's sermon this past weekend wishing death to Mr. Abbas, is the most outspoken of a small but growing group of Israeli settlers who seek to bridge the volatile divide with their Palestinian neighbors.
He and likeminded settlers – undaunted by the resistance they've met from the Israeli state, fellow Israeli settlers, and even left-wing Israeli activists and Palestinians themselves – are pressing for Palestinian rights. Their agenda is fueled by a unique mix of ideology and human compassion.
"I'm a citizen of God's country," says Froman, who wants to remain in the West Bank even if it means becoming a citizen of a future Palestinian state. "Whoever is the politician in charge is less important."
A longtime proponent of peace based on religion rather than politics, Froman has close ties with top Israeli officials, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Hamas. He says he was able to pass his suggestion to Mr. Netanyahu through a mutual friend serving as minister in the government.
The charged divide
Like other religious settlers, Froman believes the West Bank is part of the land that God promised Abraham. But he and other settlers like him also embrace Jewish commandments to treat everyone with compassion and mercy, and so have trouble accepting the hardships imposed on Palestinians daily.
Their efforts are epitomized in their opposition to the 500-mile-long security barrier that Israel has nearly finished erecting since a wave of suicide attacks killed more than 1,000 Israelis in the second intifada that began in 2000.
Much of the wall runs through the Israeli-occupied West Bank, dipping into the territory Palestinians claim for a future state in order to include burgeoning Israeli settlements – communities considered illegal under international law. According to the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem, the wall encircles 8.5 percent of all West Bank land.
But Palestinians are skeptical of settler efforts to oppose the barrier.