By Ron Kampeas
The U.S. State Department has included extensive reporting on West Bank settler attacks on Palestinians in its annual terrorism report, a sign of how seriously the Biden administration is treating the phenomenon.
The 2020 report on terrorist violence, released Thursday, includes three paragraphs reporting settler violence, the most it has included in years. The attacks have become a point of contention between the Biden administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, disrupting efforts by both sides to keep relations on an even keel.
Violent attacks by both Jewish settlers and Palestinians have increased over the past year. A 25-year-old settler was ambushed and killed in his car by Palestinians on Thursday.
The Israel-West Bank section of the 2020 State Department report begins, as it has for years, with an accounting of Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis and notes the cooperation between Palestinian Authority and Israeli forces in preventing the attacks. Then it shifts to reporting on settler attacks.
“Israelis living in the West Bank also committed a variety of physical attacks and property crimes against Palestinians, some of which caused serious injury, according to Israeli human rights organizations and media reports,” the report said.
The reports on settler violence under the Trump administration were never longer than a paragraph, sometimes only two sentences. Moreover, the Trump administration stopped citing human rights groups in its second report, for the year 2017.
The report issued last year, for the year 2019, removed the word “settler” entirely. Trump administration officials, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and former ambassador to Israel David Friedman, sought to bring State Department nomenclature in line with that used by Israel’s right wing.
The Biden administration’s return to citing human rights groups for information and statistics is significant given Israel’s decision this year to ban six Palestinian human rights groups from operating.
Israeli officials have said that the Biden administration’s focus on settler violence is “obsessive,” The Jerusalem Post reported this week. But one Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Bennett government was not concerned that the Biden administration was overly concerned with the issue.
Officials of the Biden and Bennett governments are endeavoring to keep any bickering behind closed doors, wishing to avoid the open confrontations that marked the 12 years that Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister.
The reporting on settler violence also noted that Israeli law enforcement was often the victim of settler attacks and noted Israeli efforts to constrain the phenomenon.
The overall report also noted attacks by Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the United States, against Israel, even though Hamas operates in the Gaza Strip, not the West Bank.