The events of Nakba Day, which pivoted around Palestinians encroaching Israel's border from Syria, point to three main factors that motivate infiltration activity into the country, and determine whether such activity succeeds or fails. They are nothing new in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab dispute, but in view of the Arab uprisings and anticipated international recognition of a Palestinian state in September, Israel needs to take steps unlike those taken in the past. The policy change will prevent declarations of the sort issued at Majdal Shams - "we managed to do what all the Arab states together have been unable to do" - from being repeated.
The three factors in question are the motivation levels of Palestinian demonstrators, the interests of the host-dispatching state, and actions taken by Israel. On the Golan Heights this week, the three melded together: There was high Palestinian motivation, the Syrians had an interest in the infiltration effort, and Israeli actions were inept. As a result, Syrian and Palestinian flags flew on territory annexed to Israel. At Maroun a-Ras in Lebanon, Israeli actions and Lebanese involvement, which resulted in bloodshed, sufficed to prevent this from happening. At the Erez checkpoint in the south, Israeli activity by itself stopped such encroachment; and in most regions of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority took steps to ensure that demonstrations at venues under its jurisdiction would not spin out of control.
Events of this sort have shadowed Israel since the end of the 1948 War of Independence. Israel has responded to them in different ways, depending on its capabilities, and positions taken by the Arab states and the international community. Israel blocked infiltrators in the 1950s by loosening rules of engagement, undertaking reprisal raids and settling areas conquered during the war.
Since then, fences and minefields were set up along Israel's borders, and Israel also took various steps to deter the "host" states. In tandem, Israel pursued diplomatic solutions in the form of interim agreements and peace accords; and these limited such encroachment efforts. Taken together, all these steps yielded four decades of quiet on the Golan Heights, and also Jordan's successful efforts to thwart infiltration efforts from its territory to Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to discern significant differences between current realities and those of past decades. Most states of the world are poised to recognize the Palestinian state, whose projected leadership respects UN resolutions. Israel faces a delegitimization campaign, and mounting isolation. Under such circumstances, Israel cannot vent its passions and invest in preemptive actions, obstacles and lethal threats. Israel has long borders, and it lacks the ability to deploy for prolonged periods the number of troops needed to deal with infiltration attempts. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak put it, "there's no way to deploy thousands of soldiers at each part of the border."
Widespread recognition of the Palestinian state, the lack of a diplomatic process and the transfer of demands for freedom from the arena of Arab states to Israel's own domestic arena dictate a change in Israel's policies. Israel should go back to pressuring the "hosting-dispatching" states to restrain the Palestinian refugees. Israel should also take up the search for a solution to the refugee issue.
For close to a decade, the Arab League's proposal for an end to the dispute and normalization, including an "agreed-upon arrangement" regarding the refugee issue, has been sitting on Israel's desk. The disagreement between Israel and the PLO on the refugee issue, an argument that has flared from Camp David to Annapolis, has dwindled down to a negligible amount of returning refugees. Thus Netanyahu should take responsibility for Israel's future, and sit down at the negotiation table for talks based on parameters that his predecessors accepted.
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