The Israeli Border Protests Through the Lens of the Arab Spring

Analysts say the uprisings in the Arab world touched down on Israel yesterday

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A day after the deadly clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters on Israel's borders with the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip, politicians and analysts are mulling over a tough question: What exactly took place on Sunday? Yes, the demonstrations came on Nakba Day ("Day of Catastrophe"), when Palestinians mark the anniversary of Israel's independence in 1948 and the displacement of Palestinians, but what's the meta-interpretation of the day's dramatic events?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement controls the West Bank and supports peace talks with Israel, declared that Palestinians died yesterday "for the sake of our nation's freedom," while Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, whose Islamist faction rules the Gaza Strip and just signed a reconciliation deal with Fatah, proclaimed that the changes afoot in the Arab world would "lead to the collapse of the Zionist project in Palestine." In an address to parliament today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, due to meet with President Obama on Friday, said the protesters were agitating for the destruction of Israel, not a Palestinian state. Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Palestinian youth need to learn that "they must build their houses where they are now, as the solution is not their return to Israel."

Analysts, meanwhile, are largely interpreting yesterday's events in the context of the uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa--the so-called "Arab Spring." Here are the various lenses through which they're viewing the Israeli border protests:

  • New Form of Palestinian Resistance "This new Arab age shows how to conduct the struggle in a totally different way than before," writes Talal Okal, a commentator at the Palestinian paper Al Ayyam.
  • Israel's 'Nightmare Scenario' The Arab revolution "knocked on Israel's door yesterday," observes Aluf Benn at the Israeli paper Haaretz, and "the nightmare scenario Israel has feared since its inception became real--that Palestinian refugees would simply start walking from their camps toward the border and would try to exercise their 'right of return.'"
  • The 'Post-Peace Process' Time's Tony Karon agrees that Palestinians are leapfrogging the stalled peace process in favor of Arab Spring-style "people power," and he thinks that portends a political crisis for Israel, the U.S., and even the Palestinian leadership: "Israel's security establishment has always seen mass unarmed civil disobedience as far more threatening than rocket fire or suicide bombers, because military responses to non-military challenges weaken Israel's diplomatic and political standing. The protests also represent a challenge for Abbas, whose proclivity to compromise on issues such as the rights of Palestinian refugees in order to achieve an agreement with Israel is not shared by those taking to the streets."
  • Palestinian Version of Arab Spring "America and Israel are no longer driving history in the Middle East; for the first time in a long time, Arabs are." writes Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast. "Zionism, which at its best is the purposeful, ethical effort to make Jews safe in the land of Israel, has become--in this government--a mindless land grab, that threatens Jewish safety and Jewish ethics alike. Once upon a time, when the Arabs were hapless and America was omnipotent, Israel could get away with that. Not anymore." Beinart recommends that Israel and the U.S. work toward establishing a Palestinian state near 1967 lines.
  • Bibi's Pivotal Moment Given the Arab street's newfound power, Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell reasons, Netanyahu should outline a serious peace plan when he visits Washington if he wants to "get out ahead of the most serious threat to Israel's security since the 1973 war." But "if he is true to form," Hounshell adds, Netanyahu "will use the opportunity to double down on his argument for the status quo."
  • A Syrian Message Anthony Shadid at The New York Times points out that the Syrian government, under threat from a domestic uprising, permitted crowds to breach its border with Israel yesterday. Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian dissident at George Washington University tells Shadid, "It’s a message by the Syrian government for Israel and the international community: If you continue the pressure on us, we will ignite the front with Israel."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.