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Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed to cool tensions but then: chaos

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The White House called it historic. Top Israeli and Palestinian officials held a rare meeting yesterday and agreed on a plan to cool tensions, but then chaos.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The killing of two Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank prompted hundreds of Israelis to go on a violent rampage, setting fire to dozens of Palestinian homes and cars. A Palestinian man was killed.

MARTÍNEZ: Let's get the latest from NPR's Daniel Estrin. He's in Jerusalem. Daniel, how did things devolve so quickly, considering there was an agreement to cool things down?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: It's a question of unraveling control on the ground. We have the extreme elements of Israel's right-wing government dictating harsher policies toward Palestinians. On the Palestinian side, officials are losing their ability and their will to clamp down on rogue gunmen. And we have seen especially bloody violence in the last few weeks. That is the context. So the goal of yesterday's talks in Jordan, which the U.S. orchestrated, was to calm things down, especially before April, when Ramadan and Passover coincide. That is a time when tensions tend to escalate. Palestinian officials agreed to work with Israel to maintain law and order in the West Bank, and Israel agreed in writing to this four-to-six-month freeze on any new decisions on settlements in the West Bank. But then some senior far-right members of Israel's government took the reins and said, we are not freezing any settlement activity. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is walking it back. And now, as we see, events on the ground are overtaking everything.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And then things got really ugly yesterday.

ESTRIN: They did. During these talks in Jordan, a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank killed two young Israeli men in their early 20s. They're West Bank settlers. They were in their car. Just underscoring the idea that the Palestinian Authority is being asked to rein in these gunmen. After the talks ended, Israeli settlers went on a rampage, the likes of which we have never seen. Hundreds of settlers, some of them were armed, some shooting, they torched dozens of Palestinian homes and cars. They destroyed large swaths of a village nearby. These fires were enormous. Medics say some Palestinians were injured. One Palestinian shot and killed, and his brother told us he just got back a few days ago from Turkey where he was volunteering with earthquake relief efforts. An Israeli military official told me, yes, the army failed to stop this. Israel has arrested eight settlers connected to those violent riots, released most of them.

MARTÍNEZ: And then there's ongoing political turmoil within Israel. What's the latest there?

ESTRIN: That's right. The government is bent on passing legislation, a judicial overhaul to weaken the independence of the courts. There have been massive protests we saw this weekend and other weekends. There are calls for a national strike this coming Wednesday. We're seeing some Israelis starting to pull their money out of Israel, fearing a hit to the very strong economy here. The government so far is determined to carry out this plan. And we'll have to see if the recent West Bank violence derails that process.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.