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How some Israelis see the sacred in settlements

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Many in the international community view settlements politically, as a maneuver to maximize the Israeli advantage in negotiations with Palestinians – or to scuttle those talks entirely. For peace negotiations to resume after a four-year deadlock, Palestinians have called on Israel to freeze settlement construction for six months. Ultimately, they and many others want the settlers to leave the past behind and go back across the pre-1967 border.

But for religious Zionists like Mr. Ben Meir, being here is not just about the past but about fulfilling a divine commandment to resettle the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And they believe that doing so is part of a process that is fulfilling biblical prophecy and ushering in a messianic age. Those beliefs represent a major challenge to the prospects for a two-state solution, as the idea of a covenant made with God is effectively nonnegotiable, whereas political objectives or positions can often be adjusted in return for other benefits.

Religious Zionists have never made up a majority of settlers. But shortly after Israel more than doubled its territory in 1967, they became the most visible and energized proponents of settlement, especially in areas deep in the West Bank. They steadily gained leverage over divided governments, and today carry outsized influence on government decisionmaking, serving as a kind of "internal deterrence" to any Israeli leader weighing an exchange of land for peace, says Gershom Gorenberg, a historian of Israeli settlement.

These religious Zionists describe the redemptive era they espouse as already well under way, and say it includes the coming of the Messiah, who is widely expected to be a human leader; the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem; the uplifting of all peoples; and the establishment of lasting global peace.

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