The despicable murder of five members of the Fogel family on Saturday is a crime against every human being. But the atrocity in Itamar is not only a criminal act. It was committed in a diplomatic and security context, and we have to examine its background and consequences. Not, heaven forbid, to justify what cannot be justified or grant absolution. Instead, we have to study the complex situation that makes Israel responsible for preventing an escalation that could result in many new victims.
A diplomatic stagnation marks relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Both sides have contributed to this, as has the ineffectiveness of the U.S. administration under President Barack Obama. Two years after his administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government took over, there has been no progress on the formula that ostensibly everyone agrees on: the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The diplomatic vacuum is enabling extremist elements on both sides - terror organizations (and individuals acting alone ) on the one side and settlers ravenous for more territory and a price tag on the other - to take the initiative and dictate events instead of the leaders.
In recent weeks, under pressure from visitors from Washington, Berlin and other foreign capitals, Netanyahu seems to be signaling he intends to unveil a more moderate policy in about two months. Moreover, he and his partner, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have explained that the moderation will not be a favor to the Palestinians, but rather what Israel needs. They have also promised to evacuate settlements built on privately owned land stolen from Palestinians. For a moment it appeared that the government, to develop a moderate image, was heading for a clash with the settlers.
Now, a single cell of murderers has come and changed the trend of Netanyahu and Barak's actions to a toughening of positions and the decision to build 500 new housing units in the settlements. This is a terrible decision that will neither placate the settlers nor prevent a revenge attack by the lawless among them. In addition, it is making things difficult for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, angering Obama and feeding the unrest in the territories in advance of tomorrow, a day of planned demonstrations.
A responsible government would act now to calm and not to escalate, to pursue a diplomatic solution and not a belligerent confrontation. But in Jerusalem we don't have a government like that.
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