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Settlers Settling SecState Scores

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From the get go of Secretary of State John Kerry's round-the-clock efforts to revive the moribund Middle East Peace Process, he has confronted skepticism, hostility, and sardonic remarks from every stakeholder in the on-again/off-again "rest in peace" process. Just about everyone who earns an income far and wide from each missed historic negotiation has been on his case. So, too, have been the usual Middle East suspects: Palestinians (who claim he is too pro-Israeli), Arab leaders (who claim Kerry is on a quixotic mission of his own making), and far-right Israelis (who prefer building settlements than building a durable peace).

Proving the naysayers wrong, Kerry doggedly managed to restart direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians and cajole the parties to keep going despite the regional turmoil around them. While recruiting a broad range of international actors, Kerry single-handedly has forced the actors to focus on a common framework to guide the ongoing talks. While Kerry still has his skeptics, he has everyone's admiration for his efforts.

Well, almost everyone.

This week, the official umbrella organization of settler zealots -- The Yesha Council -- fearing Kerry may be making too much peace progress, launched a vicious, Israeli taxpayer-funded PR campaign against John Kerry personally.

In a sarcastic video, the Yesha Council created a website and hired an Israeli Kerry look-alike actor to castigate Kerry as a buttoned-down, American, imported, out-of-sync consultant who offers up to Israel bad solutions to everyday problems. Their lavatory-laced attempted humor is a tissue-thin disguise to denigrate the efforts of a statesman dedicated to Israel's survival by transforming Kerry into a snake oil salesmen peddling peace in some other solar system than that of the everyday Israeli (a.k.a West Bank settler).

While every American secretary of state who has tried his/her best to forge peace expects to be pilloried, it is rare that the funding for such a campaign would come from the public purse. The motley crew that put together and funded this effort draw its resources directly from the Israeli taxpayer. The trio behind it is the Binyamina Regional Council, the Yesha Council (the NGO umbrella for the settlements) and the MyIsrael movement (founded by Economic Minister Naphtali Bennett and his party's number two, Ayalet Sheket).

The settler community has a long history of using taxpayers' contributions for political lobbying efforts. Over the past six years, more than $13 million of municipal funds has been transferred to the ultra-right-wing anti-peace Yesha Council. What makes this latest juvenile attempt of political humor different is that this campaign is not a generalist message to protect a constituency but a personal attack on a senior, respected US government official.

John Kerry is a serious man doing serious work. He has dedicated the majority of his short time in office helping to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians. He does this because he believes that peace is essential to Israel's survival and the importance of providing Palestinians a homeland they have earned and deserve. He soldiers through the barrels of ink that are split by pundits who, frustrated that they are in the dark, admonish him from a place of ignorance. His life would be far easier if he had just left this issue alone and the extremists behind the latest campaign continue to wish that he had.

His framework will demand a serious debate from both societies and their leaders. There is nothing funny about what he is trying to accomplish -- far from it, given Israel's challenges and the restlessness of Palestinians who have waited too long for an Israeli prime minister to put both feet firmly in the peace camp.

As the latest polls show, Kerry knows he has the support of the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians. He is trying now to offer up to the leadership of Israel and Palestine a much needed transfusion of that popular political will that will not last forever.

Any agreement will require the evacuation (voluntary or forced) of illegal settlements within a two-state solution framework. The Israeli taxpayer deserves to see more services for their taxes than funding illegal settlements and political campaigns by far right anti-peace settlers determined to undermine any modicum of progress in the peace process.

The Israeli prime minister can put a stop to these hijinks if he wants to. Mr. Kerry has earned more than Mr. Netanyahu's constant appeasing his right wing by buying them off with new settlements and new money to build new websites against peace.