Thursday, October 6, 2011

COIN, Settler Style

The past four days have seen a disturbing spike in Israeli settler violence. On Monday, settlers torched a mosque in Zangaria, in Israel's northern region. Today, settlers physically assaulted IDF soldiers on patrol near the Shilo settlement after rumors spread that one of the nearby illegal outposts was to be evacuated.

The response of the Israeli government and people thus far has been both predictable and heartening. Political and religious leaders have roundly condemned the attack, and an Ultra-Orthodox newspaper called the attack 'insane.' Nonetheless, such attacks are bound to continue as the future of the settlements becomes less and less certain in the wake of increasing Israeli international isolation over its presence in the West Bank. The government is right to take the threat of right-wing settler violence seriously.

What similar cases - including the Palestinian case - have shown, however, is that condemnation can only go so far. That there is a hardcore group of irreconcilable settlers who will not be deterred ideologically from committing violence is an unfortunate given. However, a complacent or ambivalent reconcilable settler population will only impair Israel's ability to prevent further violence.

Given that the moderate settler community is a critical swing population, the Israeli government should enhance its outreach efforts to them.

Outreach does not have to mean concessions or political promises. In fact, empty political promises are more likely to breed animosity in the long run than honest and candid discussion. But engagement to actively keep the majority of settlers aligned with the Israeli government versus radical settler groups will be key to winning the fight against those who would attack civilians or soldiers for political gain.

For its part, the US should support these efforts, and look for opportunities to engage settlers when it can. While DC analysts often view settlers as the heart of the problem in the Middle East, advancing US objectives there requires engaging with moderate settlers whether their political agendas align with those of the State Department or not.

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