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Boycott of Israel gives peace no chance at all

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25 May 2012

Associate Professor Philip Mendes
Associate Professor Philip Mendes

By Associate Professor Philip Mendes

The international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel is a byproduct of the second Palestinian intifada and the collapse of the Oslo peace process. It is essentially war by other means a non-violent, but nevertheless extremist strategy allied with the practice of suicide bombings and rocket attacks, and intended to coerce Israel into surrendering to Palestinian demands.

The first major manifestations of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign occurred in April and May 2002 when academics in Europe and Australia urged a boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions.

The campaign was form alised in July 2004 when 60 Palestinian academic and other nongovernment organisations called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. It has three key aims: to end the Israeli occupation of lands occupied in the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem, and dismantle the security barrier; to achieve equality for the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and to support the rights of Palestinian refugees, including their demand for a right of return to Israel as implied by UN Resolution 194.

The leading Palestinian BDS advocate, Omar Barghouti, in his 2011 book BDS: the Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, opposes a hi-national state based on parity between the two national groups. He returns to the long-dated Palestine Liberation Organisation proposal for a secular democratic state that recognises Jews only as a religious, not national, community.

The BDS campaign has had limited success. Its major drawback is that it offers no strategy for promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation. Rather, it is a negative and one-sided campaign aimed at demonising Israeli Jews irrespective of their political views on the Palestinian question.

The obvious answer to the BDS is a two-state solution. The Israeli government says it wants to negotiate a two-state solution, and is waiting for a suitable Palestinian partner willing to accommodate Israeli security requirements.

In practice, the government has failed to promote progress towards a two-state solution, and has only strengthened the Greater Israel project. Apart from the short-lived freeze on the extension of settlements, it has done nothing to reverse the growing presence of Jewish settlers far away from the Green Line borders.

Now the settlements are a problem precisely because they were built to prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel. This remains the case irrespective of what the Palestinians say or do. We all know that there are huge barriers to peace on the Palestinian side in terms of violence, religious fundamentalism and extremist political demands for a coerced return of millions of 1948 refugees to Green Line Israel. But just as the Palestinians can choose to take actions that either resolve or prolong the conflict, so do the Israelis.

I would recommend the following. The Israeli coalition government should issue a statement that it plans to dismantle all Jewish settlements east of the security barrier over the next five years. That means about 70,000 settlers will need to be evacuated. The details for the implementation of the plan are to be negotiated with the Palestinian Authority and the international community, and will allow time for settlers evacuated to be found suitable housing within the Green Line.

They will also be compensated. 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 its ability to maintain a peaceful border with Israel. Most 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.

The above proposal would demonstrate 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 resolution.

Associate Professor Philip Mendes is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit in the Department of Social Work at Monash University. He is currently preparing his new book, Jews and the Left: The rise and fall of a Political Alliance, for publication next year.

This article originally appeared in The Australian