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Israel: No Peace in Sight

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
May 16, 2011
Daily Beast

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The Arab Spring has come crashing onto Israel's doorstep. It was bound to happen. Eventually, Palestinians unhappy with their lot would take inspiration from their rebelling Arab brethren throughout the region and turn against Israel, their nemesis. Equally inevitable, Israel is responding, fearfully, with bullets. Arab dictators in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere can get away with force against their protesters. Those dictators can even keep killing until their rebels' voices are silenced. But for a true democracy like Israel, a country all too familiar with history's tragedies, shooting unarmed people never sits well and cannot be the answer.

Despite the perils of force, however, extending the olive branch is not the answer either. Offers of conciliation or negotiation would only incite the Palestinian protesters to greater demands and perhaps greater violence themselves. By all previous reckoning, they would interpret Israel's out-stretched hand as a sign of weakness. Besides, Israel was defending its borders. And those borders with Lebanon, Syria, and others are every bit as “established” as Poland's now incorporating big chunks of Prussia or France possessing Alsace-Lorraine. These European borders are the product of conquest, just like Israel's. Further, it would be folly to forget what Israelis can never remove from their minds: the Palestinians crushing against the borders don't really want to negotiate with Israel; their goal is to destroy the state of Israel.

Thus, it was not surprising that the Palestinian border protests erupted last Sunday on the anniversary of Israel's founding in 1948. The Palestinians crashed across fences and other barricades on four fronts: Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank. The numbers varied from a hundred or so on the Golan Heights plateau captured by Israel in 1967 to hundreds elsewhere. The moves were obviously coordinated. Hezbollah clearly helped the Palestinians get to the Lebanon/Israeli border, and protesters could not have approached the Golan Heights without the approval of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Estimates put the death toll around 12, with 300 injured. It appears that Israeli troops tried nonlethal measures before resorting to live ammunition as people broke through the lines.

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