The Gaza Protests—and the Jerusalem Protests That Weren’t

The U.S. and other nations have, for Israel’s entire history, refused to acknowledge that Jerusalem is its capital, in part on the assumption that doing so would ignite waves of violent protest from populations and governments across the Muslim world. But when President Trump took this step, no such thing occurred. Elliott Abrams sees a parallel in reactions to the current unrest at the border between Gaza and Israel, which, he notes, constitutes something other than a peaceful demonstration:

[T]here were armed men among the [Palestinian] crowds, and their purpose was not ultimately to “demonstrate” but to crash the border fence so that thousands of Gazans could enter Israel—where some who were Hamas soldiers would no doubt have committed acts of violence including murder, arson, and kidnapping. The death toll ten days ago was eighteen (or up to 23; accounts vary) and last Friday ten more, according to Hamas.

These events have elicited the predictable denunciations, not least from Arab capitals, and cautions and calls for restraint, not least from UN officials. . . . But once again, where are the riots and large and spontaneous demonstrations in the Arab world (or anywhere else for that matter)? Absent. Arab governments do not like to encourage very large demonstrations because they always run the risk of getting out of hand and turning violent or turning against the regimes themselves. Moreover, those regimes are simply tired of having Palestinian politics interfere with their own. Still, if there were a huge popular reaction it would need to be respected and channeled into some large public protests. Apparently [such a reaction] is absent as well. . . .

Citizens of Gaza have plenty to protest about, starting with misrule by Hamas and the terrible economic situation in which so many Gazans find themselves. Hamas tends to react by seeking more violence, attacking Israel with rockets or with this kind of dangerous clash at the border. Of course none of that helps Gazans. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have actually made a constructive proposal: in exchange for a decision by Hamas to avoid any more such border violence, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza would be opened. Egypt has often kept Rafah closed, sometimes to punish Hamas for suspected collusion with terrorists in Sinai, sometimes at the behest of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah (which wants to be in control of the crossing). . . .

As with the Arab protests against President Trump’s Jerusalem decision, protests about Gaza are not large and will probably disappear soon. But the problem that Gaza represents to Israel and Egypt will not, so these efforts to figure out a way to avoid more misery without strengthening Hamas should go forward.

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