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IPF clarifies on ‘Settler Scourge’

Last Friday, I posted a critique of M.J. Rosenberg’s latest Israel Policy Forum dispatch. In the response below, IPF executive director Nick Bunzl effectively agrees with me, and says what Rosenberg did not: that the Palestinian side, and not just Israel, must live up to its commitments.

In “Obstacles to peace,” Uriel Heilman referred to the most recent IPFFriday, by MJ Rosenberg, director of Israel Policy Forum’s (IPF) Washington Policy Center, entitled “Settler Scourge.” Heilman is right: Violence by Palestinian extremists, particularly rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, is “at least as much an obstacle to (Israeli-Palestinian) peace” as Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Here was IPFFriday’s main point: President-elect Obama “seems to understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of virtually all of America’s problems in the Middle East. Paradoxically it is the Middle East problem most amenable to resolution by way of American leadership…. Neither (the Israeli or Palestinian) side can say ‘no’ to an American President with impunity—especially when all he is demanding is that each live up to commitments they have already made.”

President Obama must insist that both sides live up to their commitments: The Palestinian Authority, to halt incitement and terror; the Israelis, to dismantle unauthorized settlement outposts and freeze expansion of existing settlements. Neither has fully lived up to its commitments. For example, as the JTA reported this week, the Jewish population of the West Bank has increased to 270,000 from 230,000 between 2005 and 2007 – a population growth three times higher than in all of Israel.

Last week’s IPFFriday was prompted by the settlers’ attacks against Palestinians, and against Israelis who evacuated them from a building in Hebron which they illegally occupied — “Settler Scourge.” These attacks (correctly pronounced “shameful, repugnant and harmful to the Jewish national cause” by Heilman) demonstrate just how serious an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace the Israeli occupation is. In making this point, we are not saying that terrorist acts by Hamas and other extremist Palestinian groups are not obstacles to peace. Nor are we equating both sides’ extremist actions. Both are impeding the path to peace — and destroying their societies.

But Israel Policy Forum — an organization deeply committed to Israel’s peace, security and future as a Jewish and democratic state — is especially distressed by the extremist settler violence. Perpetrated in the name of the Zionist dream, this violence actually subverts that dream and threatens Israel’s future. The time for the Israeli government to deal with the settler enterprise is now.  There are no more excuses.

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