Bethlehem - Ma'an - Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat on Wednesday condemned recent settler attacks against Palestinians, attributing them to a culture of violence, hatred and extremism that the Israeli government has encouraged by announcing new settlements.
"Settler violence and the wanton destruction of Palestinian property replicate what is being done on a much larger scale by Israel as it pushes ahead with illegal settlement construction across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem," Erekat said in a statement. "They bring into full view the violence that underpins Israel’s policy of illegal settlement construction and the cost to Palestinians."
The PLO official added that "Settlers are the direct beneficiaries of a state policy that says it is OK to occupy and steal another people’s land, to demolish their homes, to steal their water, to construct segregated roads and build entire cities behind the walls of an apartheid system that promotes settlements by stripping Palestinians of their basic rights and freedoms.
"The result is a culture of violence, hatred and extremism in which Israeli settlers, often accompanied by Israeli soldiers, run riot across the West Bank, driven by an ideology that glorifies such acts as serving the cause of Greater Israel, a cause which draws support from many in the current Israeli coalition," the official added, following a day of settler violence and vandalism across the occupied West Bank.
His comments followed the latest spate of settler attacks targeting Palestinians, including the uprooting of 250 olive tree seedlings Tuesday by residents of the settlement of Givat Hayovel, which had been planted by Palestinian farmers in the village of Qaryut to mark Earth Day.
On Monday, settlers attacked the General Union of Palestinian Workers' housing complex in Ein Sinyia, north of Ramallah, during which settlers destroyed water tanks and surrounding property, the statement noted, as well as last week’s attack on the village of Huwwara during which settlers vandalized a mosque, painting racist slogans on its walls, burned two cars, and uprooted more than 300 olive trees.
Rather than prepare Israelis for peace, Erekat said, the policies of the current Israeli government "encourage and enable these extremists to intimidate and destroy at will, armed with the absurd notion that they have a divine right to steal, to vandalize and to persecute another people. Beyond the enormous damage settler violence does, it is also an example of Israeli incitement pure and simple."
Referring to Israeli media reports on Wednesday, Erekat said that even some members of the Israeli military have recognized that settler violence is deliberately aimed to incite riots and provoke Palestinians. He said that Israel’s refusal freeze all settlements threatened any hope of salvaging the two-state solution, while settler violence threatened to escalate tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“Settlements are the major obstacle to peace and the greatest threat to the two-state solution. Everyone in the international community acknowledges this. They are a black hole in which hopes of peace are fast disappearing, Erekat said.
"Palestinians want peace and freedom: the Israeli government wants settlements and apartheid. While Palestinians are building a state, Israeli settlers remain intent on destroying everything in their path. That is the basic equation we face today, and the basic challenge facing the international community," he concluded.