Anti-Occupation Advocacy: An Alternative to Unilateralism

Now that Benjamin Netanyahu has won another term as Prime Minister, any change in the status quo of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems unlikely. The entrenchment of the occupation will likely continue under a coalition led by parties that ran shamelessly bigoted campaigned and explicitly rejecting both bi-national and two-state solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It goes without saying that advocates of a fair and negotiated solution to the conflict need to pause and reflect on what we can do to end the occupation. An increasing number of people are calling for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel (the BDS Movement). In my last post, I wrote why I oppose such resolutions. Here, I’ll try to sketch out alternatives.

Firstly, we need to recognize our allies in Israel and realistically judge their abilities. Despite the rhetoric regarding a rightward shift in Israel’s electoral system, the fact remains that Netanyahu’s gains came at the expense of other right-wing parties. The blocks remain fairly static. The left-center has 49 seats, as opposed to last election in which they had 48. The right wing has remained unchanged from the last election, with 43 seats. As disappointing as the results of this election are, they’re hardly cataclysmic. A pro-peace constituency remains in Israel; the question is only one of mobilization.

It’s been said that Israeli MP and former Chief Negotiator Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat could finalize a peace treaty in two weeks if given the chance. We need to make sure they get that chance. If Sheldon Adelson can pour money into the campaigns of his preferred candidates, there’s no reason that we can’t do the same for ours. Grassroots organizations (e.g. New Israel Fund) are doing important work creating forums for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.  As coexistence is a requisite for peace, we need to find ways of supporting these initiatives, financially and otherwise.

Furthermore, we need to fight against the demonization and de-legitimization of Israel. Such campaigns only serve to convince Israelis that they have nothing to gain by engaging with the world. Israel’s past is brutal, but it’s a pale shadow compared to that of America or Britain. Israel’s closet certainly has skeletons; it does not have smallpox blankets. Double standards in our treatment of Israel are not only unethical, they vindicate a sentiment common in the Jewish world that criticism of Israel is not motivated by concern for Palestinians, but out of an enduring gentile opposition to Jewish strength, sovereignty, and safety. We must be anti-occupation, but we cannot be anti-Israel.

Despite my skepticism of the goals and tactics of the BDS Movement, their tools are useful for undermining the anti-peace (and therefore pro-war) factions of Israel’s government. Israeli politicians who have rejected the peace process should be subject to sanctions. The settlements built beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders are by definition antithetical to peace, and should be boycotted in order to weaken and isolate that enterprise.

However, it is not enough to just withdraw support from these institutions; we need to turn them into a burden on Israel. Ultimatums have worked in the past and should be used again. For every dollar Israel spends on the settlements, we should advocate for the deduction of one dollar from US aid to Israel. It has become clear that drastic actaion is needed to convince the Israeli government to listen to the advice from over a hundred senior intelligence agents and high-ranking police and military officers from across Israel’s political spectrum (including six Shin Bet chiefs, three Mossad chiefs, and six IDF Chiefs of Staff) that Israel must end the occupation, or the occupation will end Israel.

The linchpin upon which all this depends is that these actions be bilateral. The standard we apply to Israel must be applied to Palestine as well. Pro-war forces, even from within supposedly moderate factions, must not be tolerated. While the effect of Abbas’s incitement is exaggerated, that’s no excuse for it to be tolerated. Calls for and praises of attacks against Israeli civilians must stop if there is to be peace.

As disheartening as the election was, it does not mark the death of Israel’s left. Only our abandonment of Israel’s pro-peace forces can do that. Only a negotiated peace will end the conflict. You make peace by building bridges, not by burning them.

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