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The effective answer to BDS is two states for two peoples

January 24, 2011 – 10:52 pm56 Comments

Copyright © 2010 Universal Press Syndicate

By Philip Mendes

The Palestinian campaign for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the State of Israel and its population is currently in the Australian news.

Late last year, the Victorian Trades Hall Council hosted a BDS conference featuring US Jewish activist Anna Baltzer. The NSW Greens followed suit by pledging to boycott Israeli goods, trading and military arrangements, and sporting, cultural and academic events. And most recently, the Marrickville Council in Sydney voted to eliminate all commercial, sporting, cultural, academic and government links with the state of Israel. Some left-wing unions such as the CFMEU have supported the Council’s proposal.

Now of course this may all constitute much ado about nothing. Most of the groups cited above are relatively marginal, and no Australian mainstream political parties or governments have expressed any sympathy for BDS proposals. In addition, earlier overviews of international proposals for an academic boycott of Israel found little evidence of practical impact. Media reports also suggest that the Israeli Government is slightly more worried about Hezbollah rockets, and Iranian nuclear threats.

Nevertheless, the BDS campaign is a clever political strategy in that it places Israel and its supporters on the defensive. They are forced to cry: “No we are not an evil Nazi-like state which commits worse human rights abuses than any other regime in the history of mankind”.

To be sure, the core arguments of the BDS campaigners, which are based on a collective stereotyping of all Israelis, are easy to refute, and some of us have done so previously.

But in doing so, we may implicitly neglect to say the obvious: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex struggle whose causes vary from the structural to the religious to the cultural, both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have moderates and extremists, and only compromise and concessions from both sides on their core narratives are likely to bring about sustainable peace and reconciliation. It is not that settlements or terrorism or checkpoints or demands for a right of return or any other hardline Israeli or Palestinian demands or actions are necessarily more or less significant in promoting further conflict. It is rather recognition that they are all part of a bigger political picture, and should not be looked at in simplistic isolation. It is precisely this inter-causality which the BDS campaign deliberately ignores.

However, it does seem to me that current Israeli policies and actions or non-actions play into the hands of the BDS campaign and other one-sided proposals which seek to demonize and blame Israel. The Israeli Government says that it wants to negotiate a two-state solution, and is waiting for a suitable Palestinian partner willing to accommodate Israeli security requirements. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also said on a number of occasions that only a government led by the Right can forge a united national perspective in favour of significant territorial concessions on the West Bank. This may possibly be true, but in practice the government has failed to promote progress towards a two-state solution. Apart from the short-lived freeze on the extension of existing settlements, it has done nothing to reverse the growing presence of Jewish settlers far away from the Green Line borders.

In contrast, I would recommend the following. The Israeli Government should issue a statement that it plans to dismantle all Jewish settlements east of the security barrier over the next five years. The precise details for the implementation of the plan are to be negotiated with the Palestinian Authority and the international community, and will allow time for all those settlers evacuated to be found suitable housing within the Green Line. In addition, the government should state that Israeli troops will remain in place in the West Bank until such time that the PA can demonstrate their ability to maintain a peaceful border with Israel. The vast majority of settlers will remain in the larger settlement blocs within Israeli territory with the long-term aim of exchanging this territory for land inside Green Line Israel (see  here).

The above proposal would demonstrate without doubt that the Israeli people are committed to making the significant concessions required for a two-state solution. It would also place the onus back on the Palestinians to demonstrate that they too are willing to compromise. Overall, it would defang the BDS campaign by reminding everybody that both sides have to give significant ground if there is to be conflict resolution.

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