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Netanyahu fails to appease Jewish settlers outraged by brutal attack

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved hundreds of new homes to be built in major settlement blocs. But settlers in farther-flung areas such as Itamar feel exposed, and threaten to take justice into their own hands.

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Palestinian officials have been accused of not sufficiently condemning the attack, and in some cases, even inciting it. In response, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conducted a rare interview with Israel Radio aired Monday in which he called the attack "immoral." He also said that the Palestinian Authority’s security forces are assisting Israel in the investigation.

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On the ground, the area around Itamar and the nearby Palestinians villages is tense. While the military conducted a third day of house-to-house searches, Israeli police forces stepped up their numbers on West Bank roads. They are on alert for possible revenge attacks by groups of radical settlers in the region, a policy known as "price tag" that challenges the authority of Israel’s government by taking justice into their own hands.

Military officials fear such attacks could trigger an escalation that would undermine a broader calm in the West Bank. With Palestinians already planning mass demonstrations across the West Bank for Tuesday calling for domestic reconciliation between Hamas in Gaza and the Abbas in the West Bank, fresh attacks could shift the focus of the march to clashes with Israel.

Damage to Netanyahu's credibility

In Itamar this week, residents said Netanyahu must build up the more far-flung, smaller settlements as well, not just in settlement blocs near the border with Israel. "What country asks another country where it can build?" asks Hayim Bigon, an engineer whose wife works in the Itamar kindergarten.

While Netanyahu tries to channel public outrage, members of his cabinet have warned of growing isolation. Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday predicted a "diplomatic tsunami" facing Israel as the Palestinians enlist growing support for international recognition of a state along the 1967 West Bank borders with or without a peace deal or Israel's consent.

Israel’s expected new initiative is supposed to sap momentum from the Palestinian move, but the new building will make it harder to convince anyone that it has plans to thin its presence in the West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state.

"This is going to cause damage to Israel’s credibility, especially when it comes to any future initiative that Israel takes in the peace process," said Meir Javedanfar, a Tel Aviv-based Middle East analyst. "You cannot say taking part in a weight loss program and then have four extra cheesecakes a day. The whole point undermines the claim you want to lose weight."


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