THE FATAL shooting Sunday of at least a dozen Palestinians who crossed into Israel from Syria and southern Lebanon reflected failures of intelligence, crowd control, and diplomacy by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Sunday’s protests came with ample warning. As with the popular protest movements this spring across the Middle East, social media were abuzz well beforehand. Yet the Israeli Defense Forces have acknowledged they were not ready for the demonstrations on the Golan border with Syria, and were not equipped with non-lethal means to confront civilian protesters armed only with stones.
And even if, as Netanyahu charges, the embattled President Bashar al-Assad of Syria did allow Palestinians to cross the border to distract from his own bloody repression of a popular uprising, Israel played into its enemies’ hands by shooting down the intruders.
The May 15 protests marked the anniversary of the founding of Israel in 1948, after which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes. Netanyahu seized on the commemoration to assert that the protests demonstrated a Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s very existence, even within the 1948 boundaries. But in using the protests as one more reason to avoid serious negotiations with the Palestinian Authority’s moderate president, Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu is preventing the two-state agreement that alone can bring Israel lasting peace.
Evoking these failures, Israel’s former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, addressed Netanyahu Monday, saying, “I don’t know what is worse, the fact that you know what will save Israel and are afraid to make the decision, or that you are clueless.’’ When President Obama meets with the prime minister Friday, he should stress that, by killing protesters, Netanyahu’s government is taking Israel farther and farther from the security it needs.