The Palestinian campaign to boycott settlement products is enjoying exceptionally high levels of enthusiasm and support from all sectors of Palestinian society. It is also garnering sympathy and understanding from a wide range of members of the international community.
Indeed, the campaign has met with no criticism from any non-Israeli party. It has been understood correctly as simply one component of a wide range of peaceful, legitimate and non-violent activities that reject the Israeli occupation and its clearest expression, illegal Jewish settlement in occupied territory. These, it is well to bear in mind, have been identified as the most dangerous obstacle to peace-making efforts by almost every single country in the world.
The Palestinian government is currently in the middle of implementing, successfully, its program to end the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state. After its initial successes in the security field, the government is now focusing on developing an economy that can serve as the backbone of such a state. As part of this effort, the government hopes to substitute all or most of the products that are made in settlements--whose market share is around US$200 million a year--with Palestinian products, or products that are imported, including from Israel.
While the nervous, if not pathological, reaction the boycott has elicited was expected from settler groups, it was intriguing to note that in all Israeli reactions, whether official or from the business sector, no differentiation was made between products made in Israel, which the Palestinians continue to import and consume, and the products of settlements, which every country on earth considers illegal and dangerous to the prospects of peace.
It is alarming to the Palestinian side to see that the Israeli mainstream does not differentiate between Israeli products and settlement products and, consequently, between Israel and settlements. If Israel is serious about the current peace negotiations, it must understand that ultimately the outcome of this process has to be a Palestinian state on the land where these settlements are. The peace that Israel claims to aspire to would thus require the dismantlement of and withdrawal from these settlements.
Another irony is the sudden sympathy Israelis have exhibited toward Palestinian workers in these settlements, normally just considered cheap labor. The official Palestinian position and practice is that while settlement products are no longer allowed in occupied territory and any violation is punishable by law, the government is also trying to end the phenomenon of Palestinian labor in Israeli settlements through the gradual creation of jobs that will attract, voluntarily, those same workers.
Ultimately, Palestinians want to reach a point at which their own market is free of any settlement products and the settlements are free of any Palestinian labor. This, hopefully, will be a step toward ensuring that the Palestinian territories become free of any Israeli presence, including settlements.
Palestinians are hopeful that a boycott of settlements in all ways will gradually spread to other countries. This may be the most effective way of "convincing" Israel to bring an end to this illegal phenomenon in occupied territories, i.e., the settlements, in a way and language that is clear to everyone.
For Israel to begin to make a clear distinction between settlements and itself, the outside world must make this distinction. A boycott of the products of settlements is a good start. Ultimately, this will benefit all those interested in peace.- Published 24/5/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
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
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.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Civil society in the lead
by Sam Bahour
When politicians face failure what do they do? Step down? No way. Not in Palestine at least. Over and over again the Palestinian leadership has hit a cement wall (no pun intended) in its attempts to lead the Palestinian people to freedom and independence. And with every colossal failure, the leadership looks to Palestinian civil society for direction.
The first intifada was adopted to cover for the failures in Lebanon, and the second intifada was adopted to cover for the collapse of Oslo. The current Palestinian Authority boycott of Israeli settlement products is no different. The boycott is the scaffolding that the PA is attempting to erect and climb in order to retake a leadership position. The dilemma PA leaders face is that it is very possible that they may be expending efforts to build a scaffold that others may climb to assume leadership of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence.
With an insignificant political constituency on the ground, a failed election campaign, and engaged in creating what many fear is a police state in the making, the PA finally jumped on the boycott bandwagon that civil society has struggled to assemble over the past several years, if not decades.
The PA's newly realized dedication to cleanse Palestinian markets of Israeli settlement products comes at a time when Palestinian markets are overwhelmingly dependent on the Israeli economy. This structural dependency is not new; it was nurtured over decades of direct occupation all the way up to the Oslo agreement. The Oslo period would have been an ideal time for the PA to set the tone that settlements--all settlements, but especially those in East Jerusalem--are not a negotiable issue but are illegal under international law and have no place in a peaceful solution. But that did not happen.
As a matter of fact, the PA not only ignored the illegal products from these settlements for many years, it also ignored the Israeli services that infringed on Palestinian markets, the most notorious being the unlicensed Israeli telecommunications operators who used their settlement-based infrastructure to provide service to all Palestinian areas, A, B and C. This infringement on the Palestinian marketplace not only caused real losses to the licensed Palestinian operators, who at the time had a monopoly license to provide services to the Palestinian areas, but it allowed for an economic fact on the ground to be created and take root. This fact was, and is, no less an obstacle to peace than the settlements themselves.
Today's boycott of settlement products is not a new effort, nor was it designed by the PA. It is a product of the hard work of dozens upon dozens of civil society players in Palestine and abroad. The build-up to today's boycott comes from a two-pronged civil society strategy.
The first prong is a global campaign that is much more comprehensive than just addressing settlement products. It is known as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Campaign and emerged from a unified call from Palestinian civil society on July 9, 2005. The last few years have witnessed a series of successes for the BDS campaign that have surely not gone unnoticed by the PA.
The second prong of the strategy is a multitude of efforts that promote local production. The most notable of these efforts is the Intajuna ("our production" in Arabic) project: a donor-funded project that is managed by the Palestinian private sector player that designed it. This effort can be seen everywhere--retail points of sales, building and construction materials, and most recently in the produce markets. Intajuna provides a depth of analysis and campaigning that goes far beyond the traditional slogan of "Buy Palestinian".
It is on the backdrop of the BDS Campaign and efforts like Intajuna that the PA had its boycott awakening. The effort is welcomed by the public, and the PA is setting a good example of how non-violent efforts can be amplified when formal leadership assumes the role of leadership grounded in the community. Civil society leaders also welcome the PA's efforts, but are more cautious in their analysis because they understand that the Palestinian leadership has abruptly stifled mass civil society efforts in the past, the first intifada being the prime example when it ended with the Oslo accords.
But as this all plays out, Palestinians and those in solidarity with them are taking some satisfaction in watching the settlement enterprise run in circles trying to figure out a way to stop the boycott. Perhaps more interesting is that there are those in Israel itself, including the Knesset's Economic Committee, who are running in the same circles, most likely in an attempt to raise the stakes now so that the boycott does not expand to include all Israeli products and services.
If past experience is any guide, the Palestinian leadership will end up bear-hugging the entire BDS campaign approach in due time, given that the tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions are much more powerful non-violent methods than negotiating in vain with a government bent on ethnic cleansing.- Published 24/5/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American management consultant living in Ramallah.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Boycott as confidence-builder
by Yisrael Harel
American emissary George Mitchell is now in Israel, where he's trying to persuade PM Binyamin Netanyahu to offer "confidence-building measures" to his Palestinian counterpart. Well, the Palestinian prime minister did not wait for Mitchell to arrive and implore him to offer a CBM. His gesture, a boycott of products from the settlements, of course including those parts of Jerusalem that he defines as settlements, was offered completely voluntarily.
The very same Salam Fayyad, darling of the "progressive" elements in Israeli society, a while ago announced another initiative, equally a confidence-builder, that he intends to take in the near future: a unilateral declaration of the establishment of a Palestinian state. That didn't impede the organizers of the Herzliya conference, perhaps the most prestigious meeting held in Israel to discuss political issues, from inviting him to address that convocation.
If that's how the Israelis react to my provocations, Fayyad presumably says to himself, why indeed should I not from time to time drop more such confidence-building bombs. After all, merely by deleting them from the agenda I'll score points for more than a CBM; they would be considered genuine concessions.
The Netanyahu government is perilously weak in every field of endeavor. Due to American pressure, it does not respond to the provocations of Fayyad and other Palestinian figures and organizations. But this does not mean that a boycott of settlement products will hold water. Not only will it not hurt products manufactured in settlements, but it will actually enhance their sales.
Fayyad failed to take into account that every few years someone initiates such a boycott. In the past, this was done by extreme left-wing Israeli movements. The result was an increase in sales of these products. Fayyad doesn't realize that those Israelis who hover around him and claim to represent the real Israel are a tiny minority. Most Israelis will, as a national response, increase their purchases of these products, as will Jews and non-Jews outside of Israel. Even those who are not explicit supporters of the settlements don't like boycotts. They still remember when any Israeli product was subject to Arab and Muslim boycott.
And most important of all: the boycott, if backed by the Arabs and their supporters, will first and foremost hurt Palestinians. A large part of the prosperity we see today on the Palestinian street emanates from the jobs many Palestinians find in Israeli industrial centers in the territories, and from the widespread commerce taking place between Jews and Arabs despite the hostility continually whipped up by those whose only objective is hatred, violence and enmity between the peoples. On the ground it is cooperation, particularly economic, between Palestinians and settlers that by far overshadows friction between the marginal actors who fan the flames.
Beyond that, boycotts can run both ways. Not a few Palestinian products find their way into Israel, including to the settlements. They, and not only they, can also be boycotted. Once again the losers will be the Palestinians, whose economic alternatives are significantly narrower than those of the Israelis in Judea and Samaria (most of whom, by the way, are white-collar workers). If the Palestinian Authority has an economic research department and it possesses accurate data, it can report to its superiors--Fayyad, after all, is known as an expert economist--that any boycott seriously imposed will constitute a boomerang for the PA's unstable and fragile economy. And a return to the economic crisis atmosphere that characterized the years of war against terror would mean social and political unrest that Hamas, which is hated by the PA leaders even more than the settlers, would exploit to its advantage, thereby endangering the rule of Fayyad, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the other wise men who are initiating these provocations. And they say Fayyad is moderate. . . .
Yet another critical turning point, perhaps the most significant in the long run, is liable to take place if indeed a boycott is imposed: a deepening of the already deep chasm separating Jews and Arabs in the territories. Fayyad must recognize that the dream of Judea and Samaria empty of Jews is false, racist and a nightmare for Jews. Even those Israelis who do not support the settlements and are prepared for territorial compromise are nevertheless sickened by the thought that Judea and Samaria--the cradle of Jewish civilization, the heart of the land where the Jews emerged as an historic people, the place where their identity was forged, where the Jewish people created monotheism--could be the only place in the world where Jews can't live, create and build.
Whatever the final political borders are, there will no longer be a situation in which Jews can't live anywhere in their historic homeland. Yes, live alongside, not instead of, Arabs. And vice versa. A boycott today means tension, hostility and violence that will only postpone, perhaps forever, the Palestinian state that Fayyad aspires to.
The boycott proves what most of the Israeli public, including those prepared for territorial compromise, has long felt: those who are really thwarting any possibility of peace in the future are the Palestinians who, in their heart of hearts, hope that it is only a matter of time until Israel disappears as a political entity in the region. Hence their goal is to gain time. The current boycott is thus simply yet another exercise in gaining time, and will be followed by more. And when they have run out of such ideas, there will be violent intifadas--an excuse for their eruption will surely be found.
Thus the initiators of these exercises should understand that despite the weakness broadcast by our recent governments and despite the lack of resolve displayed at times by the Israeli public (witness its support for the present government's surrender to American dictates), on fundamental issues--like the sovereign existence of the Jews in their historic homeland and the freedom of any Jew to live anywhere in the Land of Israel even if that places them beyond the state's sovereignty--most Jews are united and even prepared to struggle. The dreams of Judea and Samaria empty of Jews as a first step toward the disappearance of the state of Israel are simply pipedreams.- Published 24/5/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Yisrael Harel heads the Institute for Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He founded the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District) and headed it for 15 years.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.