Palestinian surrounding Israeli settlers.
Palestinian surrounding Israeli settlers near Nablus, January 7, 2013. Photo by AP
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The confrontation between extremist settlers and Palestinian residents of the West Bank village of Qusra on Tuesday could have turned into a bloodbath. Had some residents of the village not intervened to prevent the Israelis from being lynched, or had Israel Defense Forces soldiers been late in arriving at the scene, it’s reasonable to assume that the mob would have broken into the building where the Israelis were being held and taken out its wrath on them. Such an incident could have drawn the entire West Bank into a whirlpool of terror attacks, revenge attacks and perhaps even military action.

The more serious the American peace initiative becomes, the more incidents of this type are liable to proliferate. The frequent visits to the region by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are bringing both the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership closer to the moment when they must decide how to respond to the American proposal for a framework agreement between the parties.

Down the road, this agreement is expected to lead to massive evacuations of both illegal outposts and settlements outside the major blocs. Kerry’s efforts are thus raising tension and fear on the right, as evidenced by Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett’s warning on Tuesday against “our friend who is pushing us to commit suicide.”

On the fringe of the rightist bloc is a not insignificant group of activists who seek to continue creating a balance of terror via the so-called “price-tag” attacks. They favor blind vengeance on Palestinian persons and property for every decision by Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank to evacuate or demolish illegal construction in the outposts. They may also have a deliberate goal of igniting the territory in order to thwart the American initiative.

The achievements of the security services in halting this Jewish terrorism have been meager until now. The gang that left the Esh Kadosh outpost with the goal of rampaging through Qusra included at least two right-wing extremists who are well known to the Shin Bet security service. Moreover, that morning, the Civil Administration had uprooted an olive grove the settlers had planted on nearby Palestinian land. In other words, it should have been possible to prepare for the provocation committed later that day.