Israel preparing for September West Bank violence

AP News
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Posted: Jun 27, 2011 2:53 PM
Israel preparing for September West Bank violence

Israel's military is making intensive preparations for an outbreak violence in the West Bank over a U.N. vote in September on recognizing a Palestinian state, Israeli military officials said Monday.

Palestinians, meanwhile, pushed ahead with their drive. Palestinian officials are fanning out around the world to raise support for their initiative. They hope to change the minds of U.S. leaders, who appear poised to veto a resolution in the U.N. Security Council to admit Palestine as a full member of the United Nations.

For the first time, a senior Palestinian official described a fallback position Monday.

Nabil Shaath said if the U.S. blocks the initiative for U.N. membership, the Palestinians would try for nonmember state status at the world body. "This would open the way for us to get membership in all the U.N. institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund," he said.

The statehood campaign emerged from the long deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the Palestinian conviction that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not serious about making peace.

On Sunday, the West Bank Palestinian leadership formally decided to seek U.N. recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

While a vote in the U.N. General Assembly would be little more than symbolic, it could change the equation in the minds of Palestinians and Israelis alike, energizing Palestinians to resist Israel's occupation of the West Bank in both violent and nonviolent ways.

Israel is already planning its response, starting with a seminar Tuesday for all levels of the military command structure on dealing with riots and protests, military officials said.

Military officials said the army is bringing in large quantities of non-lethal crowd control equipment to deal with potential mass protests. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the military is preparing for a full range of possibilities, including riots, attacks, marches and demonstrations.

They said all routine training exercises set for September have been canceled to make soldiers available for duty in the West Bank, and reservists will be called up to replace the regular soldiers at the borders.

Israel rarely mobilizes reservists unless a combat situation is facing the country, illustrating the seriousness of the perceived threat.

Though peace talks have been stalemated for months, and no final agreement has emerged from nearly two decades of negotiations, the West Bank has been relatively calm for several years. A violent uprising typified by dozens of suicide bombing attacks that erupted after peace talks broke down in 2000 died down after a few years, as Israel built a barrier along and into the West Bank to keep infiltrators out.

On Monday, an Israeli expert forecast a new round of confrontations after the U.N. vote.

Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a retired Israeli military chief of staff and former Cabinet minister, predicted that Palestinians would stage mass demonstrations and might march on Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Lipkin-Shahak is a leading member of a group that is urging Israel to adopt a peace proposal along the lines of President Barak Obama's concept of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem with agreed swaps of territory that would allow Israel to keep some of its main West Bank settlements while compensating the Palestinians with land. Past Israeli governments have accepted such plans, but they have not produced a peace accord.

Addressing the Foreign Press Association on Monday, Lipkin-Shahak said he expected new forms of resistance to emerge in the wake of the September process.

He noted how a mass march on the border with Syria in May, when soldiers killed more than a dozen unarmed demonstrators who crashed across the fence, could serve as an example, as the incident put Israel on the defensive diplomatically.

He said there was a good chance of such Palestinian demonstrations erupting in places like Jerusalem or the West Bank city of Nablus. "They are not stupid," he said, noting the effect the mass charge by unarmed protesters had on world opinion.

"It might create something that we never witnessed before," he said. "They saw the power of the people, they saw the power of nonviolent activity."

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Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed to this report.