Israeli weapons cannot prevail on their own

If Palestinian protesters cross a "red line" around a settlement, the advice is to shoot at their feet. What kind of damage-control policy is that?

But those are the instructions that the Israel Defence Forces are giving soldiers preparing for the "mass disorder" expected next month, reported the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. At the same time, the Israeli government is stockpiling anti-riot weapons at settlements, which are already armed to the teeth, in anticipation of trouble.

Moves like these leave little doubt that Israel is rattled by the mounting support for the Palestinian cause ahead of the expected UN General Assembly vote on statehood next month. But materiel will not be decisive - unless, and this is crucial, Palestinian splinter groups justify a military response by resorting to violence. It is on the diplomatic battlefield and in unarmed protest that Palestinians have a real chance of prevailing.

In the shadow of the Netanyahu administration's hard-line stance, peaceful resistance has proven to be the most valuable tool. From the series of flotillas to relieve the Gaza blockade - and the Israeli raid on the MV Mavi Marmara that killed nine last year - to the "Arab Spring" protests that brought tens of thousands to the streets in both the West Bank and Gaza earlier this year, peaceful protest has gained a momentum that neither negotiations nor violence could achieve.

With the exception of sponsors in the United States, international opinion has largely turned against Israel's occupation. A US veto is almost guaranteed in the Security Council, but the General Assembly vote is widely expected to favour of recognising Palestinian statehood.

That is why attacks, such as the one that killed eight Israelis near the town of Eilat, are so counterproductive, as well as an unnecessary loss of life. There is still a question about who conducted the attack, although blame has switched from Hamas-linked groups to Jaish Al Islam, a Sinai-based terrorist group.

The legitimate Palestinian resistance has a daunting challenge. Stalled talks between Fatah and Hamas have cast doubt on credible state-building efforts, and splinter group militants are provoking violence to derail the UN vote. In the divided Palestinian Territories, security is a hard commodity to come by.

Israel may be counting on that. Settlers are far better prepared to meet an attack on their lines than Israeli diplomats are at the United Nations.

Published: August 31, 2011 04:00 AM

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