By Ray Hanania
The boycott of Israeli settlements and products grown or produced there is a principled and justified stance led by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that aims at forcing Israel to stop exploiting properties taken from non-Jews in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 and has, ever since, been stealing land from Palestinians, evicting the owners and then building racist, Jewish-only settlements. That many people in the West do not understand this simple fact is the result of Israel’s pernicious propaganda, funded by hundreds of millions of dollars freed up because America gives Israel’s government more than $3 billion every year from the pockets of US taxpayers.
But there are other boycotts that are just naive. The most self-destructive for the Palestinians is the political boycott, in which they refuse to engage with the very people who have the power to control Palestinian lives and support Israel’s ongoing brutal military campaign. Two years ago, for example, newly elected American Vice President Mike Pence visited Israel and Palestine, but the Palestinians, angry with President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, boycotted Pence’s visit. And, last year, Palestinians refused to attend the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop organized by Trump’s special Middle East adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, leaving the conference of 200-plus corporate and business investors to hear only one side of the story.
This week, Pence, along with other leaders of the US Congress from both sides of the aisle, will visit Israel to participate in a Holocaust remembrance ceremony. However, they won’t be meeting with Palestine’s subjugated government or besieged President Mahmoud Abbas. Ironically, many Palestinians are calling that a “snub” by Pence and the visiting House members, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while not acknowledging that, when Pence arrived in Israel in January 2018, they refused to meet with him.
This practice of blanket rejectionism is self-destructive, as it empowers Israel to advance its goal of removing non-Jews from many areas of Palestine. Rejectionism is not a strategy — it is a symptom of division. The Palestinians are extremely divided. Activists who embrace the total boycott of Israel and oppose “normalization” are extremists, and they spend too much time and energy attacking the moderate Palestinians who urge compromise and support dialogue with Israeli moderates.
The real tragedy is that the extremists’ actions are self-fulfilling. By boycotting everything, they strengthen the anti-Palestinian movement in Israel and in the West, which, for example, falsely calls the BDS movement “anti-Semitic” and provides fuel to efforts to impose restrictions on pro-Palestinian voices, such as the anti-BDS laws that have been approved in more than half of America’s 50 states.
Worse, boycotts allow pro-Israel extremists to dominate the international dialogue where it counts the most: In the West and especially in countries like the US, which played a more than significant role in helping to create Israel in 1948.
Never mind that the extremists’ efforts to silence the moderates divide Palestinian voices, activism and resources, weakening the effort to confront Israel’s propaganda lies. The rejectionists — who often embrace violence, as Hamas did in launching a wave of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians following the signing of the Oslo Accords at the White House in 1993 — have also inadvertently redefined the Palestinian cause in many circles from being one of championing human rights and justice to being perceived and described as an anti-Semitic campaign of hate. That is not the real face of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who languish under Israeli oppression, whether as Israeli citizens or as occupied victims of Israel’s annexationism.
The longer this campaign of rejectionism continues, the more it undermines Palestinian self-confidence in terms of achieving statehood through political compromise and the more it empowers the extremists. Since the late 1980s, when Hamas was founded, the militant Islamic movement has grown in strength and popularity, taking over the Gaza Strip — as was sought by the Israelis — and countering the efforts of Palestine’s legitimate government to engage in the peace process. The moderate leadership has been relegated to the sidelines, marginalized not only by Israel’s extremist policies but by the weakness of a Palestinian voice that is divided, disorganized and effectively dysfunctional.
As Abbas’ leadership seemingly comes to an end, brought on as much by Palestinian rejectionism and violence as it was undermined by Israel’s extremist right-wing governments and racist apartheid policies, the Palestinians face a dismal future in which moderate secular voices are replaced by extremist and narrowly focused religious activism from groups like Hamas.
If Pence really cared about Israel, as he claims, he would recognize that the collapse of Palestinian moderation is just as destructive to the future of Israel as it is to the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. The truth is that, without two states, Israel will almost certainly one day be destroyed, not by moderates who embrace compromise based on the two-state solution, but by violent extremists on both sides, who will turn Israel and the Occupied Territories into battlefields.
Both sides will suffer because rejectionism and political bias against the rule of law and Palestinian human rights will only serve to empower the fanatics. Pence should show courage and extend a hand to the Palestinians, even if he believes the Palestinians will, through the expansion of their suffering and hopelessness, reject that hand.
Victims of apartheid and oppression should not be condemned because they suffer from an absence of hope, which Pence and others have failed to provide.