What if 100,000 Palestinians march en masse from the West Bank toward the 1949 armistice line that separates the Palestinian Authority from Israel? This week at the United Nations, Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi said, “We need millions of Palestinians to march on Jerusalem.”
According to former Israeli ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, “No security fence or even a concrete barrier can stop an organized mass attempt to breach the Israeli border along a much larger front than merely the Gaza border.”
The PA is worried that Hamas’s “Great March of Return” in Gaza may upstage and eclipse it. Palestinian political movements compete for who can be the most anti-American and anti-Israeli. So it is logical that the PA will stage their own march, only this time from the West Bank into Jerusalem, Hebron, or Bethlehem.
To complicate matters, what if many of the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose political allegiance is overwhelmingly to their Palestinian brothers in the disputed territories, join the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank in protests and violence within Israel. A civil war within Israel could truly ignite the region.
Twice in the past two weeks, a well-coordinated and financed operation by Hamas sent thousands of Gazans to challenge the security barrier between Gaza and Israel. Hamas’s strategy is to use civilian shields embedded with terrorists and activist supporters to breach the Israeli international border, provoking a violent Israeli response. This will culminate on Israel’s Independence Day or to the Palestinians, “The Day of Catastrophe” (Nakba). The PA will not want to be outdone.
A mass demonstration that crosses the Green Line, whether from the West Bank or Gaza, will inevitably lead to significant violence and casualties. The Israeli-Gaza security barrier has been attacked on a daily basis for years with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), sniper fire, infiltrations of terrorists attempting to kidnap Israeli soldiers, and attempts to build tunnels for terrorist attacks on Israeli civilian communities.
Hamas and the PA’s strategy is based on the expectation that a sympathetic international media can be manipulated into believing these are peaceful protests in the style of Gandhi, and that they will report on the disproportionate Israeli response against the victimized Palestinians, including terrorists posing as journalists. It has long been a strategy of Hamas to use human shields, firing rockets from civilian areas, hospitals and schools, in the hopes of winning propaganda points with the maimed and wounded Palestinians purposely placed in harm’s way.
As American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said, “It’s basically all about Gaza’s innocence and Israel’s guilt... Hamas threatens and harasses Israel, but it is only Israel’s response that warrants close attention and scrutiny.”
It must be repeated to the American audience that Hamas’s goal is not a “two states for two peoples” solution. The stated objective is an unlimited right of return of descendants of Palestinian refugees to Israel.
A recent Palestinian survey by An-Najah University PA reported that 71% of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza reject Israel’s existence even within the 1967 lines. To Hamas and the PA, the two states are both Arab and Muslim.
What would happen if 50,000 Palestinians and their anti-Israel NGO supporters took over the Temple Mount, the most religiously sensitive piece of real estate on the planet? What if terrorists embedded within the civilians start throwing firebombs onto the Western Wall platform? The conflagration could be the spark that starts the next Middle East war. This scenario is not unrealistic. Palestinians last summer stormed the Temple Mount in protest over Israel installing metal detectors after Palestinian terrorists opened fire on the Temple Mount.
So does Israel have a strategy to prevent a mass march toward Jerusalem, or from anywhere in Areas A and B toward the Green Line? First, Israel needs a sophisticated strategy to manage the public relations and perception issues that are faced when a sovereign state is seen as an occupier, even if it borders and is attacked by a terrorist entity. There is little dispute that Israel is treated by the international community according to a standard not applied to any other nation. However, Israel can do a better job minimizing live fire as this plays directly into the Palestinian hands for their propaganda purposes.
Believe it or not, Israel may have been given a gift, as its adversary is clearly signaling in advance what it is planning to do. It is up to Israel to come up with an effective plan to deal with tens of thousands of Palestinians crossing the ‘49 armistice lines from both Gaza and the West Bank simultaneously. This has been years in the making.
America will stand with Israel for the time being, but it should also be reaching out to its Arab allies in Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States to put pressure on the PA not to embark on this strategy, as it can easily get out of control and turn into a third intifada.
The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East. He is a contributor to The Jerusalem Post , The Hill , and The Forward