Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Settler's War and the Biden Response

While the world's eyes are primarily on the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, another spate of violence has erupted in the West Bank, where Israeli settler violence has surged to unprecedented levels. A few weeks ago, I observed that while what's "going on in Gaza is more eye-catching ... the [West Bank] situation is in some ways even worse because there isn't even a colorable claim of self-defense -- it's pure unconstrained terror inflicted by settler extremists on the Palestinian population for the express purpose of subjugation." (Matt Yglesias made a similar point). The Gaza operation can at least in the abstract be defended as a necessary response to Hamas' violence. The violence inflicted upon Palestinians in the West Bank defies even theoretical justification. In terms of familial resemblance, West Bank "price tag" settler terrorists differ from the perpetrators of October 7 only in degree, not kind.

Today, the Biden administration announced it would begin pursuing sanctions (such as visa bans) on settlers who engage in or promote violence against Palestinians. It's an overdue step, and I've urged considerably harsher measures than that (last week I suggested identifying violent settler organizations and placing them on the State Department's list of Designated Terrorist Organizations). Nonetheless, it is a welcome one. Extremist violence emanating from West Bank settlers is one of the primary drivers of the current conflict and an existential (and very much intentional) threat to the viability of a two-state (or one-state, for that matter) solution. The fact that these malign actors carry significant support in the highest echelons of the Israeli government is not a reason for the United States to stay its hand. Indeed, their substantial influence and clout makes it more imperative that America decisively intervene to isolate them.

This step by the Biden administration will not neuter the criticism it is getting from the left for how it has handled the past month's events (indeed, I first heard about the anti-settler sanctions from at least three social media accounts who flagged it in the course of derisively dismissing the notion that it meant anything at all). But that's the way it goes -- our policy towards Israel and Palestine should be humane and intelligent regardless of whether that earns brownie points with the online activist crowd. This proposal is a good proposal. I hope it is followed up on, and I hope it prompts other pro-Israel Democrats to think more proactively and creatively about what steps America can take to sap the strength of the settler-terror movement.

The other big almost-news of the day is the prospect of a ceasefire negotiated by the Biden administration. Initially this was reported as a "tentative deal" having been struck, now the reporting has backed off a little to saying the deal is "close". The details, as they're being reported, would see both sides cease hostilities for five days, the release by Hamas of approximately 50 hostages (approximately 20% of the total number they're estimated to be holding), and the transport into Gaza of significant quantities of humanitarian aid. All I'll say on this is that I'm familiar with the arguments for why Israel's military operation is necessary, and I'm aware that a ceasefire is still part of the middle, not the end. But I'll never be dismayed at the prospect that people suffering tremendously in a warzone will, for some time at least, suffer less. And I'll likewise only feel joy at the prospect that some kidnapped captives will be redeemed to their families.

1 comment:

Rachel Pearl said...

It feels like (but maybe I'm off-base) the political pro-Israel "cover" Biden gets for supporting Israel defending itself against Hamas after Oct. 7 is allowing him to finally pursue long-needed policies to punish extremist settlers/their backers.

I'm only 30, but this is the first time that I've felt like my President is handling the I-P conflict in a way that aligns with my beliefs — both ethically/morally and politically/strategically — on how the US should navigate the conflict.

Was at the CADEM convention this weekend, so this was a nice analysis to read after witnessing that balagan.