Professor James Sebenius recently analyzed three ominous forces in an article for Power and Policy, entitled “Deal v. No-Deal in the Middle East: Three Forces Leading to a Deadly Collision,” (June 20, 2011).
On May 15, 2011, thousands of Palestinians rushed Israel’s Syrian and Lebanese borders, as well as the fences of Gaza. Such actions have continued on several Israeli fronts. Arabic social media now buzz with expanded plans for unarmed Palestinian refugees to protest en masse in and around the Jewish state. If stones marked the first intifada and suicide bombers the second, waves of children, women, and men may well characterize a third phase of the conflict. There is much commentary about this new form of protest. Likewise, the planned September UN vote on Palestinian statehood generates considerable discussion and diplomatic maneuver. Far less well appreciated are the likely consequences of a toxic three-way combination: mass protest, the statehood vote, and a tough Israeli response on the ground. Without advance action to prevent these three forces from converging in September, the risk level will spike for Israeli, Palestinian, and American interests.
A number of constructive actions could prevent the dangerous three-way collision of a new form of protest, the statehood vote, and a tough Israeli response. If pre-September negotiations make sufficient progress, the statehood resolution could be crafted to support and strongly facilitate negotiations, not pre-empt them. While many senior “insiders”—Israeli, Palestinian, and American—clearly sense the coming collision and are scrambling for a way out, crucial constituencies on all three sides oppose meaningful initiatives that could avert it. For very different reasons, muddling through looks better to these broader publics.