Israel and Palestine Spring for Arabs, winter for Jews
Palestinian incursions both rattle and bolster Israel's government
May 19th 2011 | JERUSALEM AND RAMALLAH | from the print edition
FOR months the Arab spring seemed to have passed the Palestinians by. But it caught up with them over the weekend of May 14th-15th, when they demonstrated en masse—and more daringly than usual—to commemorate the day the Palestinians call the naqba, or catastrophe, when Israel was created 63 years ago. Abetted by Syria's government in Damascus which was seeking a diversion from its own troubles, hundreds of unarmed Palestinian protesters (pictured) breached Israel's defences in the Golan Heights, something no Arab army has managed to do for 38 years. Four were killed. Throngs pushed into an Israeli-controlled Druze town, Majdal Shams, raising Palestinian and Syrian flags in the square and hailing the daring move as a first step to "going home".
Many of them demonstrated elsewhere, too. Thousands from their grim refugee camps in Lebanon converged on their southern border with Israel. In the worst violence there since the war of 2006 between Israel and the Lebanese party-cum-militia, Hizbullah, at least ten Palestinians were killed, amid Israeli claims that some of the victims had been shot by Lebanese soldiers trying to corral them. Thousands of Palestinians also massed across the Palestinian territories, including Ramallah, the West Bank capital, Nablus and Hebron. Hundreds converged on the crossing-point into Israel between Ramallah and Jerusalem at Qalandia. In Gaza, too, hundreds of Palestinians gathered near Israel's concrete fortifications which pen them in. Some threw stones. A protester was shot dead.
Despite such losses, these events may have raised the Palestinians' confidence in their ability to use mass action effectively, seeing that diplomacy and violence have so far failed. Next month pro-Palestinian campaigners may again try to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza in a ferry, a year after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists seeking to reach the coastal territory in a flotilla. And the Palestinians now seem bent on winning direct recognition for their state at a vote in the UN General Assembly in September.
But that does not mean that the Arab spring has reached Palestine. Funerals for the weekend's victims passed without fanfare. Talk of a third intifada (uprising) still seems premature. For Palestinian politicians, the task of fleshing out the reconciliation deal agreed on in principle last month between their two main factions, the Islamist Hamas and the more secular Fatah, rapidly returned to the fore. Neither party seemed keen to stoke further popular unrest that might threaten their rule.
As for Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu's government sounded rattled by the incursions. Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, often spoke of sending a million Palestinians to march on Jerusalem in an unarmed but unstoppable assertion of national independence. It seemed hollow talk then. But the surge of "people power" through nearby Arab countries has made it sound more plausible, especially with hundreds of Palestinians thronging into Majdal Shams. Many Israelis wonder nervously if the Palestinians will try to repeat the gesture in September if, as expected, the Palestinians win statehood at the UN.
Meanwhile the Israeli army, caught flat-footed both on the Golan Heights and on the border with Lebanon, will have to shore up the border, at least in the north, to make it physically impassable. It may lay down wider swathes of barbed wire, insert more landmines, and build higher barriers topped with electrical devices. And Israel may beef up the controversial barrier, erected in recent years to keep out suicide-bombers, which cuts into Palestinian territory delineated by the border of 1967. But the barrier is studded with crossing points which may yet draw bigger crowds of Palestinian demonstrators.
Mr Netanyahu was quick to seize on the incursions to reinforce his argument against the Palestinians' quest for statehood at the UN. They proved, he told his parliament on May 16th, that the Palestinians were out to extirpate the Jewish state from any part of Palestine. On May 19th he was to fly to Washington to rally American opinion to this viewpoint. He was to meet Barack Obama the next day and will address Congress the week after.
Mr Netanyahu says he is ready, in principle, to negotiate a two-state solution, but claims there is "no partner" on the other side, especially since the accord between Fatah, which rules the West Bank, and Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip. He says he can negotiate with no Palestinian government that includes Hamas, since it will not recognise Israel or disavow violence.
But opposition leaders in Israel say Mr Netanyahu himself is no partner for peace, since he refuses to accept that a Palestinian state would have to regain land lost in 1967, albeit with territorial swaps to let Israel absorb the largest Jewish settlement blocks, even though his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, offered this to the Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians' current president. Moreover, Mr Netanyahu insists that an undivided Jerusalem must be Israel's capital, though Mr Olmert's predecessor, Ehud Barak, agreed in 2000 to divide the city's sovereignty between the states of Israel and Palestine. And Mr Netanyahu still refuses to stop building settlements in the West Bank, the main bit of a future Palestinian state. Despite all this, Mr Netanyahu is hoping that his friends in America will persuade Mr Obama that the fence-busting Palestinians are the chief impediment to peace.
CONSULTEN, OPINEN , ESCRIBAN .
Rodrigo González Fernández
Diplomado en "Responsabilidad Social Empresarial" de la ONU
Diplomado en "Gestión del Conocimiento" de la ONU
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