A March 2012 report by senior European Union officials said that “[d]iscriminatory protections and privileges for settlers compound...abuses and create an environment in which settlers can act with apparent impunity.” The report said these and other actions have created the perception that “settler violence enjoys the tacit support of the state of Israel.”
Successive Israeli governments of all ideological stripes – left, right, and center – can be held responsible for perpetuating the root causes of settler terrorism by creating and nurturing the settlement movement in the West Bank. They have largely pursued or refused to fully curb this policy, despite international consensus on the illegality of building those settlements.
The US government has been right to consistently oppose Israeli policies on settlements as a serious obstacle to achieving peace and stability in the region. However, the US failure to back up that rhetoric with action has helped create the monster of settler terrorism that is now proving so difficult to contain. While President Obama made the right decision in demanding a settlement freeze, his failure to back up his demand allowed the Netanyahu government to launch the most aggressive settlement policy to date.
Settlement activities in the Palestinian territories pose a structural threat to US interests in the Middle East. As such, Washington must not shy away from confronting them. The US State Department listing settler attacks as “terrorist incidents” clearly indicates a concern that such attacks may trigger a response from the Palestinians that could push the area into a new cycle of violence, something the United States cannot afford at a time of major upheaval and turmoil throughout the region.