The terrorist attack that left a family of five dead in the West Bank settlement of Itamar was a horrific act. Israel is in mourning, which is fitting, and Israelis are angry, which is understandable.
But it’s hard to see how building 1,000 new units in settlements for every person killed by terrorists, as Interior Minister Eli Yishai said on Sunday, will ease the tensions that produced this act of wanton terrorism. Or even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to authorize only 500 more units in close-in settlement blocks.
What conclusions will Israel draw from this terrible incident?
That the only answer is to expand and strengthen settlements across the West Bank, as Yishai argued?
Or that it’s more urgent than ever to find a way to make peace with the Palestinians and withdraw from most of the West Bank, as the left insists?
The latter offers no guarantees that terrorism will stop, it seems to me; the risk is real that a withdrawal from occupied territory would just bring determined terrorists that much closer to Israel’s population centers.
But the former, if implemented, means terrorism will almost certainly increase. Expanding settlements as a response can only deepen Israel’s terrible isolation in the world, boost those who dispute its legitimacy and ensure new conflict with Israel’s only ally, the United States – an ally whose leaders are increasingly doubtful that Netanyahu is willing or able to take risks for peace.
I don’t envy the choices Netanyahu has to make in the wake of these attacks, or the political realities he faces as his nation reacts to the brutal killings and what some say could be a resumption of widespread terrorism.
Those difficulties do not change the fact that what Israel needs now is calm, smart, forward-looking and non-political decision making.