As we join Israel in mourning the death of five family members killed in a vicious terror attack in Itamar last Shabbat, it is important not to read too much into the horrific event — or too little.
The pain all Israelis feel at this wanton act of violence is real, and is shared by countless Jews in this country and around the world. The photos released of the small children stabbed to death in their sleep were horrifying, and it is difficult to think of the perpetrator or perpetrators as human.
This is terrorism, pure and simple. Though at this writing we do not know the identity of the killers or their affiliations, it is hardly a stretch to connect these murders with a climate of incitement that has been perpetuated by the Palestinian Authority even as its officials proclaim their interest in peace.
Jewish groups are correct in their assertion that the PA leadership has been recklessly negligent in tamping down outrageous incitement that can only reduce the likelihood of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel — incitement like this week’s dedication of a town square in Al-Bireh to the memory of a terrorist involved in killing 37 Israelis in a 1978 bus hijacking.
That said, it is important not to take this tragedy as demonstrative “proof” that the Palestinians overall are uninterested in peace. We disagree with those in Israel who argue that the Itamar tragedy demonstrates that peace is an impossibility and that ongoing peace efforts represent a risk Israel can no longer afford to take. If a single terror attack, however horrific, constitutes proof that peace efforts are doomed to fail, then the terrorists have won, and Israel is consigned to a future of endless strife and bloodshed.
We share Israel’s grief and understand the enormous pressures this latest atrocity places on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But what Israel needs now is cool, clear-headed decision making. Unfortunately, the Netanyahu government’s response to the Itamar tragedy — the announcement Israel will accelerate construction in West Bank settlement blocs — while emotionally satisfying, is more about politics than policy.
Though the decision confines the expanded building to areas expected to remain with Israel after any settlement with the Palestinians, it can only inflame tensions in the region, increase Israel’s international isolation and complicate U.S.-led efforts to find new paths toward a negotiated settlement.
Incitement is real, and must be addressed forcefully by the PA if it hopes to achieve statehood. But its failure to do so does not absolve Israel’s leaders of the need to make smart, farsighted and courageous decisions in the face of the kind of horror we witnessed at Itamar, and not succumb to the arguments of those who view any realistic peace agreement as surrender.