May 16, 2011

Israel's Borders: The Day After

So the events of yesterday do not, thankfully, seem to have kicked off a regional war, though continue to knock on wood. As predicted, though, the violence along Israel's borders (Page A1, today's Washington Post, above the fold, with a color photograph) has drowned out coverage of Bashar al-Asad's continuing war against his own people (Page A9, today's Washington Post). A few more observations to either add to or amend ones I made yesterday:

1. I promised there would be room to criticize the tactics and operations of the IDF going forward, though I also noted that as critical as I have been of the IDF in the past, I am sympathetic toward any military organization simply trying to protect the integrity of its territories. That having been said, the only place where there seems to have been an actual breach of the border was along the Syrian border. (And again, the Golan Heights are occupied territory that we assume will someday transfer back to Syria as part of a broader peace agreement, so we're not so much talking of an international border here as we are a line of control. The readers who pointed this out yesterday are, of course, correct on this point.) Yet the IDF killed how many along the Lebanese border? Let me just say that a) there was no excuse not to have been better prepared for this kind of mass protest on Nakba Day and b) that the IDF has demonstrated in the West Bank that it has the means to use non-lethal means to counter protests. So one question I would have going forward concerns how the IDF units along the border with Lebanon were prepared to respond to the protests along the Lebanese border in terms of escalation of force. What non-lethal means did they have to respond to protesters and rock-throwers? Because although a solider has the right to defend himself, Israel as much as any other nation understands that the kind of international condemnation you receive from shooting protesters carries with it strategic effects.

2. There was a lot of conversation in the Twitter-sphere concerning tactics of both violence and non-violence in support of the Palestinian cause. Much of this is poorly uninformed, and some are simply trying to crudely portray all Palestinians as violent savages while others are defending Palestinian tactics over the years without any kind of critical reflection on their appropriateness or effectiveness. Let me just say this: before anyone opens his or her mouth about strategies and tactics of the Palestinian national movement over the years, he or she should first check this book
out from a library and read it.

3. As I said yesterday, the events along Israel's borders should be a wake-up call for the Israeli political class. Although the easy thing to do here will be to claim that Israel has no partner in peace, it is foolish to think the kind of non-violent protests that proved so effective in Egypt and Tunisia will not migrate to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the eyes of the world, Israel will look like Ben Ali or Mubarak in the face of a non-violent movement for the creation of a Palestinian state. Is Israel prepared for that? When I was in Israel 18 months ago doing some research, some security analysts I talked to spoke of the West Bank and the Palestinians as a problem to be managed: sure, there would be an uprising every now and then, but it was nothing Israel could not handle through force. I'm not sure that is any longer the case, if indeed it ever was, which is part of the reason why I believe Western, Arab and Israeli policy-makers should start setting the conditions for a Palestinian state (.pdf) now rather than wait.

4. Have I mentioned before how much I hate writing about issues relating to Israel and Palestine? I think I have, so I usually avoid it and only made an exception in this case because of the Lebanon and Syria angle. Don't expect this, then, to be the new normal here on the blog. I will go back to my usual coverage of everything-but-Israel-and-the-Palestinians soon enough.