As of this writing, 60 Palestinian demonstrators who either approached or charged the fence separating Gaza and Israel on Monday were killed by the IDF. According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, 2,700 were also injured. These figures have not been independently verified by outside officials, but they are hardly outrageous estimates when you examine footage of what transpired yesterday. It should suffice to say that dozens of Palestinians were killed and scores were injured, whereas only one Israeli soldier was wounded.
The fact that no Israeli was seriously harmed does not, ipso facto, place the entirety of the blame on Israel. But it does suggest that Israel was willing to brook no risk to its soldiers, an unreasonable standard when confronting civilians behind a fence wielding mostly primitive weaponry. Riot police across the developed world routinely deal with fenceless protests that include burning tires, Molotov cocktails, and household appliances-cum-weapons without racking up such a large death toll in one day.
It’s not anti-Israel to expect a thorough investigation by Israel into the military’s response to the demonstrations yesterday and those of the last few weeks. This is not just for the sake of saving innocent lives, though that certainly provides ample justification for a proper inquest, but for Israel’s interests as well. Humanitarian conditions in Gaza are not expected to improve on their own in the coming years and Israel can’t consistently react with maximum force to anything and everything that approaches the border fence without attracting the international scrutiny it purportedly resents. Israel is obliged to find a less deadly way to de-escalate these demonstrations.
What happened on the border yesterday, of course, came against the backdrop of the harmful and pompous spectacle that opened the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. The prominent stage presence of Robert Jeffress and John Hagee, two figures on the hardline American religious right, put to rest any notion that this ceremony was even a distant relative of thoughtful foreign policy.
Many pundits have identified being the anti-Obama as Trump’s modus operandi as he struts uncomfortably across the international stage. There is some truth to this, particularly when discussing Syria: within a span of a week in April, President Trump indulged his isolationist instincts by calling for a total withdrawal of all American forces from the country and enforced the red line against the use of chemical weapons that President Obama neglected in favor of a deal to remove such weapons from the country.
However, in recent weeks Trump’s foreign policy has been categorized by a peculiar desire to provoke and deal with crises now rather than in the future, when perhaps he would be better prepared. On North Korea, President Trump is advancing an unprecedented meeting with Kim Jong Un with nothing more than the dovish South Korean government’s hunch that the regime is looking for more than legitimacy and optics; instead of compromising and reaching a deal with European partners, the President rashly withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement, also known as the JCPOA, isolating the United States from its allies and increasing the likelihood of a new Iranian rush toward a nuclear weapon; and in Israel, the administration neglected America’s role as a trusted partner and mediator to both sides and recognized Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
In all three of these cases, one could imagine future scenarios where the issue would’ve been forced on the United States; with the Iran deal, there was actually a sunset clause that more or less gave away the exact date when this would (potentially) happen. But none of them had to be confronted this year, let alone this month. A prudent administration would have invested time and resources in formulating proper strategies, tasks which I suppose require an adequately staffed State Department and a National Security Council filled with experts and not fringe ideologues.
Trump, though, has decided to throw gasoline on the fire and Netanyahu is carelessly cheering him on. Polls suggest Israelis see the American decisions on the Iran agreement and the embassy as political wins for Netanyahu, which is superficially true: he is the world’s most prominent critic of the JCPOA and, like all Israeli leaders, long hoped for U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Bibi should still think twice, for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents another potential crisis that President Trump can call up on a whim when he’s in need of a new shiny foreign policy toy. There have been two occasions on which American administrations barreled head-first into the peace process in misguided attempts to reach a final status agreement in a matter of months: in 2000 and again in 2014. As they surely would today, both the Israelis and Palestinians entered talks with the intention of not being blamed for its inevitable collapse. The talks did indeed collapse, and terrible violence followed. After yesterday, is anyone ready to believe a Trump peace process will be known for its subtlety in comparison to its predecessors?