West Bank Israeli settler violence threatens US peace hopes

The headline news from the Middle East is, understandably, about Gaza. But what happens on the second front of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, could have a bigger impact on the region’s future.

Violence is rising there, too. Israeli settlers and soldiers have killed 160 Palestinians in the past month, and the atmosphere is fraught.

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Rising violence by Jewish settlers against local Palestinian residents in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is threatening to derail American plans for Mideast peace.

Crucially, the occupied West Bank, home to 3 million Palestinians and 600,000 Israeli settlers, would form the core of the Palestinian state envisaged by Washington in an eventual two-state peace treaty with Israel.

U.S. diplomats are worried that the new settler violence heralds a wider move by Israel to close the door once and for all on any such peace deal. President Joe Biden said the other day that “extremist settlers attacking Palestinians on the West Bank … have to be held accountable. And it has to stop now.”

Washington regards a rapid and serious new peace push as essential to its ambitions to build long-term Middle East stability on the foundations of normalized relations between Israel and key Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. Mr. Biden does not want to see that dream founder on the rocks of extremist Jewish settler violence in the West Bank.

The headline news from the Middle East is, understandably, about Gaza: The escalating violence and the mounting humanitarian crisis as Israel strikes back against Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack are compelling and urgent subjects.

But a second front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a few dozen miles to the northeast, has also seen rising violence in recent weeks.

And what happens there could have an even greater impact on the political future of Israel, the Palestinians, and the wider Middle East once the war in Gaza is over.

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

Rising violence by Jewish settlers against local Palestinian residents in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is threatening to derail American plans for Mideast peace.

That second front is the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River. Fifteen times larger than Gaza, it is home to 3 million Palestinians, along with some 600,000 Israelis in dozens of settlements.

Crucially, the West Bank would form the core of the Palestinian state envisaged by Washington in an eventual two-state peace treaty with Israel.

Raneen Sawafta/Reuters

Women mourn Moath Odeh, a Palestinian resident of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, who was killed during clashes with Jewish settlers and security forces.

That may help explain the surge in violence there since Oct. 7.

On one hand, the Israeli military has launched a crackdown to head off protests in support of Hamas’ message of “resistance.” But there has also been a major surge in attacks by armed Israeli settlers on Palestinians in nearby towns, hamlets, olive groves, and grazing land.