A short while ago I posted a note about the lack of media attention to Israel. A few hours later five members of a family in a Jewish settlement, including a two month old infant, were slaughtered on the Sabbath. 

The earthquake in Japan and the possibility of radioactive clouds monopolize the headlines elsewhere, but not here. The IDF has locked down Arab villages near the settlement, and is doing what it knows how to gather information. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman instructed Israel''s representatives in the United Nations to make the point that the failure of the Palestine Authority to denounce the action reflects its lack of commitment to living at peace alongside Israel. Now the Authority''s prime minister has denounced the killings. Better late than never. Most likely the killers were affiliated with Hamas or some other opponents of the West Bank regime.

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Those of you who think of Lieberman as an extremist should consider the parties heavily supported by settlers. They have avoided joining the Netanyahu government, which they view as too moderate. On Israel''s 100-point scale of left and right, or accommodationist and hardliner, Lieberman is probably no further right than 75.

Currently I am reading American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier by Patrick Griffin. It deals with the conflict between Indians and white settlers on the American frontier in the latter part of the 18th century. No one has to tell me about the differences from the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Indians of the 18th century were not the Arabs of the 21st. As Griffin describes the white settlers with their limited education and morality, their land hunger and savagery, they differed greatly from Jewish settlers in the West Bank. None the less, there are parallels that do not stoke our optimism.

Various British and American officials tried to avoid the conflict between Indians and white settlers by limiting settlement. However, other British and Americans failed to do what was necessary to implement the prohibitions, or even encouraged settlement. White settlers were not the most civilized or cultured of people. They wanted land. Indian chiefs made agreements with white authorities, but they did not control their people. Restive Indians continued to attack whites. Whites responded with no less savagery. White leaders did not stand by, but provided the far greater resources that eventually ended the Indian threat and pretty much ended the Indians.

Parallels are imperfect, but instead of Indians opposed to their leaders read Hamas and its allies. Jewish settlers pressure the Israeli government to give them more land, somewhat like the white settlers of 18th century America pressed the British and later the American authorities. White incursions into Indian land provoked Indian attacks on white settlements, which served the purpose of whites wanting more land and wanting to eradicate the Indians. Today, radical Palestinians and Jewish settlers feed each others'' views of the world.

West Bank settler leaders are furious. Slaughter of religious adults and children on the Sabbath is as bad as it can get. If the killers meant to upset a faltering peace process, or to act against Palestinian leaders viewed as moderates who opposed violence, they could not have picked better targets or better timing. 

It is inconceivable that Jewish settlers killed the family in order to provoke violence. That would be beyond the pale for religious Jews, and contrasts with the record of their behavior. But retaliation against Arabs? It would be uncivilized, uncultured, and illegal, and assured to add to the ill feeling. But it is not to be unexpected. Security forces will be allocating some resources to protecting Arabs while they seek to locate and deal with those responsible for this atrocity.

Settler leaders are blaming the government for weakness in the face of international pressures, saying this is the time to strengthen and expand the settlements, as well as to deal forcefully with the Arab threat.

We know the end of the conflict between white settlers and Indians in the area now called the Middle West, and later in the Great Plains and beyond. One should not predict anything similar between Israelis and Palestinians. The international community differs as night and day between the 18th and 21st centuries. Israel will remain constrained by its morality as well as by international pressure. But a peace process? Not likely in the immediate aftermath of this slaughter. What comes next on the ground, as well as in the case of unstable Arab countries, will keep us uncertain for some time. 

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