Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is Israel at a Strategic Dead end?

President Obama's much awaited speech on the Middle East today is going to promise billions of dollars in foreign aid to Egypt and Tunisia.  But if the White House thinks this payout will help it regain its major-player position in the region, it might as well keep the money and apply it towards our ballooning national debt.  This is because momentous events in Israel this weekend should remind us that our closest ally may be at a strategic dead end, and U.S.  proposals will not even penetrate the outer hull of that crisis.

Tel Aviv-based journalist, Jonathan Cook, penned a piece in Counterpunch describing the profound implications of Sunday's demonstrations,  in which thousands of Palestinian refugees descended on the borders of Israel from Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza for “Nakba Day.”  This Arab commemoration of "the catastrophe”  takes place every year at the time most Israelis celebrate the founding of the Jewish State.   However, what made this year's event different were the coordinated  demonstrations, which erupted on all four of Israel's borders.  Fourteen people were killed trying to breach Israel's borders with Syria, and scores of others injured along the other borders.  One Palestinian refugee, named Hassan Hijabi, not only infiltrated Israel's northern border, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, even  hitchhiked to Tel Aviv.  

Israeli authorities accused embattled Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad of having instigated  the Syrian demonstration, and claimed the Hezbollah organized the border confrontation on the Lebanese side of the border.   But such arguments miss the point.  In fact, The Daily Star columnist, Rami G. Khouri  argues that what Israel fears more than violence is Palestinian non-violence.  He asserts:

"The symbolism of what happened Sunday is terrifying for Israelis, in fact far more terrifying than any military threat that Israel has ever faced, because it means only trouble for Israel. . . .  The element of time is working against the Zionist strategy of creating a powerful Israeli state that can either intimidate the Palestinians into forgetting about their right to return to their homes in Israel, or simply generating hopelessness among the refugees that ultimately makes them give up their quest for repatriation or restitution. Time since 1948 has only turned the original 750,000 Palestinian refugees into 4.5 million refugees today whose attachment to their land, home and rights is stronger than ever. If the Palestinians organize such nonviolent marches and other protests skillfully – which is more than likely – they will create situations that the Israelis will not be able to control."
Perhaps even more worrisome for Israel is the unfolding of too many unpredicted events in the Middle East, simultaneously.  Thus far, the democratization process in the Arab world has not augured well for Israel (see my post here). Egypt, for example, has already established ties with the once isolated Hamas-stronghold of Gaza.  In the past several weeks, the two warring Palestinian factions, also Fatah and Hamas have reconciled.  

Within this context of unpredicted and unpredictable change in the region, the symbolism of Sunday’s demonstrations may be seen as profound.  Just as the Jews returned to their ancestral homeland after two thousand years of exile, there is growing international sympathy for Palestinians, who amassed Sunday on the borders of a homeland they lost a mere sixty-three years ago. 

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