Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travels to Washington this week as the Jewish state confronts new border clashes coinciding with the anniversary of the Palestinians’ defeat in the 1948 war and protests that some analysts say signals the start of another uprising, or intifada.
White House representatives condemned Syrian authorities on Monday for letting crowds approach the border with Israel, something Syria’s government prevented in the past, while the Israeli Defense Forces were condemned in a statement from the United Nations for firing on the throngs of refugees who approached the border.
Israeli officials said the border incidents that have killed at least 15 people do not appear to be a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising. Some Arab nongovernmental organizations had announced plans to march on Syrian and Lebanese borders with Israel as the start of such an uprising.
“The Palestinians’ transition from terrorism and suicide bombings to deliberately unarmed mass demonstrations is a transition that will present us with difficult challenges,” said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Aaron David Miller, who has been a senior adviser on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to six secretaries of state, said Syrian orchestration has combined with increasing boldness by Palestinians who marched to the border.
“This does not suggest a fundamental change, though. This may be a new tactic, but it’s unlikely to morph into a new strategy,” Mr. Miller said.
“What could be a new phase is if Palestinians pressed the checkpoints every day in numbers of a far greater proportion,” he said. “This would confront the Israelis with a new challenge. Hamas has made a judgment that it is not interested in escalating now. But if you had a strategy of massive protests that would elicit a tough Israeli response, you could put the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the map in a new way. I am not recommending this, though.”
Israeli officials said in interviews that it was significant that no rockets were fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza on Sunday, a holiday for Arabs known as “nakba,” which marks the expulsion and flight of about 750,000 Palestinians after Arab armies failed to defeat the fledgling Israeli forces in 1948.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that this could lead to more violent demonstrations in the West Bank,” one Israeli said. “But the overall assessment at the moment is that Palestinians and residents of the West Bank will not want to jeopardize the economic prosperity achieved in the last few years.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in published interviews last week that he opposed another violent uprising, even if peace talks with Israel are stalled.
“Those individuals in Hamas who have expressed a wish for this to be a third intifada are engaging in demagoguery because a third intifada, if we are talking about the existing template, would mainly take place in the West Bank for which [Hamas members] are not responsible,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior research fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.
Mr. Ibish added that “President Abbas was elected by a very large mandate in January 2005, running on a platform of nonviolence and was noted as a harsh critic of the violence of the second intifada on all sides.”
Mr. Netanyahu is set to meet with President Obama on Friday at the White House. It is the first face-to-face meeting for the two leaders since the collapse of Mr. Obama’s peace initiative, which linked Israeli construction in East Jerusalem to Palestinian participation in the peace process.
Mr. Netanyahu told the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on Monday that he wants to make peace with a Palestinian state willing to end the conflict. “I am not willing to accept a Palestinian state that wants to continue it,” he said.
Those words are a direct reference to Hamas, the party in control of Gaza that recently reached a unity government agreement with Fatah, Mr. Abbas’ party. Hamas has rejected all peace deals with Israel and quotes the anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in its charter.