Settler violence in a time of security

Right-wing violence in Israel is always provoked by something, we’ve been told. The murders of Palestinian laborers and Israeli Arab bus passengers by two settlers during the disengagement from Gaza was provoked, of course, by the disengagement from Gaza. The drive-by murders of Palestinians during the second intifada were provoked by the second intifada. The Rabin assassination and the two-year hate campaign that preceded it were provoked by the Oslo accord and Palestinian terror attacks. The Hebron massacre by Baruch Goldstein was provoked by the Oslo accord and Palestinan terror attacks. The Jewish terror underground of the early 1980s, involving shootings of Palestinian mayors and college students, as well as an attempt to bomb a Palestinian bus and a plot to blow up the Temple Mount, was provoked by the pullout from Sinai following the peace treaty with Egypt.

There’s always a reason, supposedly. Jewish blood is being spilled by terrorists, the Left is giving the country away to the enemy, the settlers and their allies are being driven to extremes, they’re being backed against the wall, so they’re lashing out in desperation.

This is a popular notion in this country. So why has settler violence been going through the roof again, most recently in Sunday night’s “price tag” torching of a mosque in the Galilee Bedouin village of Tuba Zangaria? Life for Jews in Israel and the West Bank has never been safer than it’s been for the last few years. Palestinian security forces have been working with the Shin Bet and Israeli army to shut down terror, to throw Hamasniks in jail, to even keep big protest rallies from taking place.

Meanwhile, the peace process couldn’t be deader. The Israeli government could hardly be more right-wing. The administration in Washington could hardly be more craven, while Congress has become indistinguishable from the Yesha Council.

Yet here’s Yediot Aharonot’s Palestinian affairs writer Roni Shaked (a former Shin Bet agent) summing up the situation: :

“Arab terror is under control. The intelligence network in the West Bank is yielding good results. and the Palestinian security apparatus is also helping. While there are worries over Israeli Arab terror, it does not meet the criterion of a security threat. By contrast, ‘price tag’ terror is no longer the ideology of a few ‘wild weeds.’ It is a full-blown underground, a security threat that is liable to set off a new intifada and enflame relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.”

Here is Ha’aretz military affairs correspondent Amos Harel:

“According to the Shin Bet, the right-wing extremists no longer appear to need a ‘trigger’ to take action, while the targets of the violence are also widening – military vehicles at an IDF base near Ramallah have been vandalized, and threatening graffiti has been sprayed onto the apartment door of a left-wing activist. Attacks on Arabs and their property are carried out when the opportunity arises, the Shin Bet officials add.”

What’s going on? What’s provoking the settlers in this underground now?

Nothing. They “no longer appear to need a ‘trigger.’” It doesn’t matter what the Palestinians, the government in Jerusalem or the administration in Washington do or don’t do. Nobody’s bothering them, nobody’s threatening them; they’re just feeding off the endless, escalating provocations in their own minds.

Is this an isolated phenomenon? Is it unconnected to the national political scene? I don’t think so. It seems to me that the rise in settler violence over the last couple of years is the crude, violent expression of the trend we’ve seen in the Israeli public at large: While Palestinian terror and political radicalism have steadily diminished, Israeli politics and public opinion have continually gotten more right-wing and hostile to Arabs.

There’s never been less terror here, the Palestinian police are doing much of our dirty work, we’ve never had a Palestinian leadership remotely as moderate and peaceable as Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad – yet the feeling here is that the situation’s hopeless, there’s no one to talk to, any minute all hell’s going to break loose, our backs are to the wall. If Bibi can’t save us, maybe Lieberman can.

Israelis used to say – and I used to believe – that if the Palestinians only stopped terror, we would be only too eager to make peace with them. If that was ever true, it certainly hasn’t been for many years.  They’ve stopped terror, and not for the first time – Arafat stopped terror for the last 4-1/2 years of the 7-year Oslo process, and it had no effect on Israeli opinion then just like Abbas’s efforts have had no effect on Israeli opinion now.

To be clear, the Israeli mainstream opposes these price tag attacks, it rejects the torching of mosques and olive groves. However, the Israeli mainstream remains deeply antagonistic toward Arabs, and this feeling has only gotten stronger in recent years, regardless of how subdued the local Arabs have become. The price tag underground is a violent, fanatic, superheated outgrowth of what’s happened to the Israeli political mind. On either side of the Green Line, we need no trigger, no provocation anymore. The provocation is inside us, and we just keep feeding on it.