Rousing Religious Passions Against Peace

It is hard to overstate the impact of the latest terrorist attack in Jerusalem, where a lone gunman managed to enter a religious school to kill eight students and wound nine others on Thursday evening. Israeli commentators were quick to highlight that by targeting the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, which is regarded as the flagship institution of the religious Zionist movement, the attack was clearly intended “to outrage the general public and to inflame that particular segment of it most skeptical of the possibility of Israel one day coming to terms with its most immediate Arab neighbors.”

News of the attack triggered joyful celebrations in Gaza, and Palestinian sources have reportedly claimed that the gunman was acting according to plans hatched by Hamas leaders in Damascus in coordination with Hezbollah. But while Gazans celebrated and Hamas praised the “heroic operation,” PA President Mahmoud Abbas unequivocally denounced the attack.

As much as the attack highlighted the division between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Fatah-ruled West Bank, it also revealed once again how deeply divided Israeli society is. Nothing could illustrate this division better than the decision of Israel’s respected daily Haaretz to feature a scathing commentary by the paper’s controversial writer Gideon Levy, who criticized the religious Zionist settler movement as “a minority, 12 to 15 percent of the population, whose influence in certain areas is crucial and far exceeds its own relative size. No one can explain in depth the magical powers of extortion this group has obtained. Nor can anyone ignore the damage it has caused the country.”

With an editorial grimly entitled “Blood, religion, and negotiations,” Haaretz joined the growing chorus of voices warning that time for a negotiated two-state solution might be running out — as Jordan’s King Abdullah II recently put it: “There are new state actors (such as Iran) in the region and my fear is that the failure of the peace process will increase the aggression of the extremists in our region.”

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