AN ISRAELI VIEW
An understandable but ill-planned gesture
by Yossi Alpher
I don't like boycotts. Israel suffered from a comprehensive Arab boycott prior to 1967, when settlements and territories were not an issue. Israel is today targeted for academic and economic boycotts by elements in the West whose hostility toward it in many cases goes far beyond the West Bank, Jerusalem and the settlements.
On the other hand, I understand where the Palestinian Authority's economic boycott of the settlements is coming from. Palestinians can't build a state from the bottom up--and I wholeheartedly support such an enterprise--while simultaneously strengthening economically the very settlements and East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods that undermine their chances of success at state-building. Because the boycott of goods manufactured in settlements is likely to be largely symbolic in its economic impact on Israel, and because many Palestinians will continue to work in the settlements and in Israeli industrial zones in the West Bank for want of genuine Palestinian jobs, the boycott should be perceived largely as a state-building exercise directed at Palestinians. As such, its basic concept and origins are legitimate.
But for the boycott to be truly seen as legitimate by most Israelis and by many supporters of Israel, the thinking that informs it must be considerably refined. For example, the boycott is escalating just as Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are resuming, albeit indirectly. It's one thing for Palestinians to express lack of confidence in the talks' prospects for success. But it's quite another to take a step whose timing, if nothing else, triggers yet more lack of trust on the part of Israelis who otherwise favor the talks. Why didn't the boycott start full-speed a year ago? Why now?
Then too, the boycott covers products from the Golan Heights. Why is Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad expanding his state-building exercise to territories the Palestinians do not claim? The Golan belongs to a different conflict whose resolution requires very different rules and conditions.
The boycott would also be better understood by Israelis if it were not perceived as part of a broader Palestinian political war against Israel that is much harder to explain. Why does the PLO support the Goldstone report condemning Israel's behavior in the Gaza Strip in January 2009 when at the time it supported the Israeli military campaign against Hamas? Why object (abortively) to Israeli membership in the OECD when the settlements constitute a negligible portion of Israel's economy and the Palestinian campaign is understood by Israelis to seek to remove us from the very global standards and legitimacy the Palestinians profess to uphold?
My highly qualified and conditional acknowledgement of the Palestinians' right to boycott the settlement economy does not reflect any specific hostility toward the settlers, who for the most part settled on the land at the behest of a succession of Israeli governments. Nor does it indicate any lack of identification with their attachment to the heart and soul of the ancient Jewish homeland. But the settlements were a grand strategic error on Israel's part. Another people live on the land, with the right to self-determination and sovereignty. Settlers who wish to remain residents of a future Palestinian state will have to abide by its citizenship and residency laws, and I doubt many will wish to do so, anymore than Israeli Jews opt to live in Egypt or Jordan, two countries at peace with us.
Fayyad's boycott is, as noted, largely symbolic in impact. Like the far less symbolic settlement freeze, it signals that Palestinians and the rest of the world are finally ceasing to acquiesce in Israel's settlements folly. Any Israeli or supporter of Israel who hopes to begin resolving this conflict should support the general idea of Fayyad's state-building enterprise. But because at the end of the day he needs our support, too, Fayyad should pay close attention to criticism of his policy where it appears exaggerated, unfocused or downright counterproductive.
- Published 24/5/2010 © bitterlemons.org / http://www.bitterlemons.org/issue/isr1.php
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.