In February 2015, the Stanford University Undergraduate Senate passed a resolution forwarded by Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine (SOOP). The resolution, explicitly separated from the Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, called on Stanford to divest from certain companies seen as implicit in Israel’s human rights abuses in Israel and Palestine. Although the resolution had previously failed, it was later resubmitted for a midnight vote, this time successfully. Despite the fact that the occupation of Palestine represents a massive, indefensible, and ongoing human rights violation, this was the wrong thing to do.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has been devastating to Palestinians and brutal for Israelis. Given that American military aid accounts for approximately 20% of Israel’s defense budget and that the US plays a key role defending Israel in the political arena, it is clear that we are already involved in the conflict. As such, we have a responsibility to do something to end the occupation. However, doing something does not mean doing just anything.
The resolution passed by Stanford was predicated on a naïve understanding of the conflict and a blithe disregard for history. There is no doubt that Israel, as the more powerful entity, should be the primary focus of our attention if we are to end the conflict. However, the Palestinians, and the Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank, have played no small role in perpetuating the conflict. While the West Bank led by the PLO government has proven itself a willing partner for peace, it’s not clear if the Hamas-led government in Gaza is willing to negotiate. Furthermore, it’s not clear whether either government is capable of preventing the myriad of smaller groups from carrying out attacks. Hamas has had many problems preventing Islamic Jihad from attacking Israel in violations of truces. The PLO has had more success due to its cooperation with Israel and the US, but still, attacks have taken place. By choosing to act unilaterally to punish only one side rather than acting to enable peacemakers on all sides, such resolutions only contribute to the perpetuation of the conflict, rather than its resolution.
Past divestment resolutions have failed to encourage the Israeli government to withdraw from the occupied territories. Instead, they have strengthened Israel’s pro-occupation parties by seemingly confirming those parties’ narrative, which hinges on the assumption that the world will never accept Jewish sovereignty and that Israel will always face a level of public scrutiny far beyond that of other countries engaged in similarly criminal behavior. It bears note that there have been no serious calls to end US military aid to Egypt, an authoritarian country receiving military aid in amounts second only to Israel, or to divest from Turkey, a NATO ally currently illegally occupying northern Cyprus. Rather than encouraging the Israeli population to challenge the political status quo by calling for withdrawal from the occupied territories, past divestment resolutions have resulted in the Israeli public rallying around their seemingly vindicated supporters of occupation. The decision of the American Studies Association to boycott all Israeli universities was lauded in Israel’s right-wing press while the peace movement was reeling, seemingly abandoned. The only result was that the pro-settlement government that had been weakened by the surprising 2013 election was reinvigorated.
I hope that anti-occupation advocacy at Stanford continues. I would like to see better resolutions put forward. Instead of acting unilaterally, improved resolutions should attempt to recognize and enable the peacemakers on both sides while undermining the pro-war factions. For Israel, this would likely mean divesting from Israeli businesses located in the occupied territories while investing in Israel proper. It may involve coordinating with and supporting non-violent resistance to the occupation in Palestine. Most importantly, it must seek bilateral engagement; it takes two sides to make peace.
Instead of trying to dictate the terms of an agreement, anti-occupation advocacy should seek to create in environment favorable to negotiated solution, while allowing the Israelis and Palestinians to find their own terms. We can’t solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; only the Israelis and Palestinians can do that. Our role, as outsiders, is to bring them both to the table. Our job, as outsiders, is to build bridges, not burn them.