Saturday, June 11, 2011

Israel's Choices Are Preemption Or Concession

A third round of protests are scheduled for al-Quds day, this coming Tuesday, marking the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 war. The IDF has already begun preparations for the protests, which are not likely to be the last round given the upcoming Palestinian statehood bid at the UN this fall.

Protesters have clearly not been deterred or sated by the results of previous protests. In addition to these three protest days, weekly scattered protests in cities such as Bilin and Nabi Saleh have been ongoing for years. The missing piece for these protests has been a unified voice, organization, and set of demands. However, the UN vote stands a good chance of being the perfect spark to congeal a unified movement which at best will be non-violent and at worst will undertake a third intifada.

The status quo is clear: Israel's control over the stability of the West Bank is a runaway train headed straight for a concrete wall. And we can see it coming a mile away.

It is patently in Israel's security and diplomatic interest to undercut the possibility of a unified protest movement, which would have a negative impact on Israeli citizens and the State as a whole. A non-violent and unified protest movement in Palestinian areas would also draw support from Europe and an awkward blend of apathy and interest from the United States. It would also force Israel to make concessions more hastily than an optimal security posture would require. Economic improvements, authority transfers, and force re-deploments require careful planning and time.

Taking action now will allow policy shifts which are preemptions on Israel's terms. If they are not taken now, the same shifts will happen later this year, only they will be concessions and not on Israel's terms.

The IDF is receiving blame for shooting 22 protesters at the Syrian border last weekend, a claim which has still not been independently verified. But the demonstrators aren't there to protest the IDF's rules of engagement. They are there to protest Israeli government policy towards Palestinians. Even if the IDF performed at a utopian level of efficacy, killing and injuring zero protesters, the protests would likely continue given the continuance of Israeli policies towards Palestinians. Yet the Israeli government is focused like a laser on the UN statehood bid, trying to recoup the inevitable losses of its reactionary take-no-prisoners foreign policy. In doing so, it is ignoring the externalities of State policy which are motivating this bid in the first place.

This is not good enough. Israel cannot have its cake and eat it too. Preventing the UN statehood bid from sparking a unified movement will require real policy shifts.

Some may term these shifts "concessions." In the sense that its a concession to ruin your shirt by diving into a pool to save a drowning child, that's accurate. But whether saving a child or Israel's security posture, preemptive policy shifts will incur a cost far less than the potential costs of a unified uprising.

Furthermore, these relative costs pale in light of the sea changes taking place throughout the Middle East. Israel cannot hide from the Arab uprising like a turtle in its shell, nor should it. Policy shifts that will result in increased security for Israel will look less like concessions and more like strategic realignment in the rapidly changing environment of the Middle East. It is better to make these shifts now rather than to wait.

Ultimately, given Israel's current security posture, preemptive policy shifts are a cost-effective way to undercut protest movements which will gain considerable legitimacy if they unify. The measures may need to be significant, but the threat Israel faces is significant as well. They may be costly, but ignoring current policies will only add to this cost.

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