The Future of the Palestinians

Many analysts expect Secretary of State Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to fail like all previous ones, but there is a chance that the isolated Palestinian Authority will acquiesce to Israeli demands. If so, what’s the future of the BDS movement, asks Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Much has been made of the rising influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Indeed, there is a growing sense that the boycott power of civil society, particularly as it is manifesting itself in Europe, is on track to repeat history — to do to Israel what it once did to South Africa.

Simultaneously, there is the persisting assumption that the latest effort at negotiating a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now being managed by Secretary of State John Kerry, will go down the same ignoble path as all its predecessors, i.e. failure.

Author and academic Norman Finkelstein. (Photo credit: Miguel de Icaza)

Author and academic Norman Finkelstein. (Photo credit: Miguel de Icaza)

But not everyone agrees with this. In an interview given to the New Left Project, posted online on Jan. 11, Norman Finkelstein (a well-published critic of Israel) presents a different scenario. Finkelstein firmly believes that Kerry’s efforts will bear fruit and thus, before the end of President Barack Obama’s term in office, Israel and the frankly unrepresentative Palestine Authority (PA) will come to terms.

Finkelstein explains that the classic debate over Israel’s illegal settlement blocs is over and, on this issue, Israel has won. It will be allowed to absorb the major settlements and thus render any Palestinian entity geographically dubious. The right of return so dear to Palestinian refugees will also be abandoned by the PA.

As a consequence, “negotiations” have boiled down to two issues: the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and the final status of the Jordan Valley. Finkelstein predicts that the first issue will be solved by describing Israel as “the state of the Jewish people and its citizens,” thus affording alleged legal protection to Arab-Israelis, and correspondingly, Palestine will become “the state of Palestinians and its citizens.”

Regarding the Jordan Valley, Israel will slowly withdraw from the area. Finkelstein’s comment on this is that “Israel is adept at ‘conceding’ things to which it has no title in the first place.” 
Finkelstein describes the “Palestinian leadership” as “irredeemably corrupt, incompetent and stupid.”

He is only slightly kinder in his description of “Palestinian supporters abroad,” who, he says, are “not acting smartly.” He discounts boycott achievements in the U.S. and believes that those in Europe should be thought of as pressure tactics in support of Kerry’s efforts.

Palestinian solidarity groups “carry on as if the Kerry process is a meaningless sideshow, something that can safely be ignored,” Finkelstein said, calling this attitude a big mistake. He added that the possibility of real Palestinian self-determination will be gone before these supporters know what has hit them. 

What If That’s Right?

Whatever one might think of Norman Finkelstein and his prognostications, it would be wise for those supporting BDS and Palestinian rights to  consider how they might react if, against all odds, Secretary of State Kerry succeeds. So let’s think about this.

Such a settlement (at least as described by Finkelstein) would transform a good part of the West Bank’s occupied territory into “sovereign” Israeli land and set up a truncated Palestinian entity to which Palestinian refugees could “return.” Some might question whether there would remain a rationale for continuing to boycott Israel. The BDS movement could lose steam, at least temporarily. But would it and its goals dissipate all together?  

Probably not. What would ultimately save the BDS movement is Israel’s leadership itself, driven as they are by the inherently racist nature of the Zionist ideology. In other words, Israel’s policymakers can be safely relied upon to be true to character.

Take the “politically moderate” Finance Minister Ya’ir Lapid ,who recently told an Israeli audience, “the issue [is] we need to get rid of the Palestinians. It threatens us, it chokes us.” As a result of this commonly shared attitude, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (and other non-Jews such as asylum seekers from East Africa) within Israel’s territory will continue apace.

To put it another way, the 67-year-old effort to harass most non-Jewish citizens and residents out of the country will greatly intensify. The BDS campaign conducted against South Africa was a reaction against that society’s racist culture and policies. There is no reason why a powerful BDS movement cannot be sustained against Israel on the same basis.

But Norman Finkelstein may be wrong. It might be that the well-informed journalist Jonathan Cook is correct when he observes that “despite outward signs … [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu [is] far from ready to compromise.”

Cook claims that Netanyahu has “the bulk of the Israeli public behind him. … But most importantly he has a large chunk of the Israel’s security and economic establishment on his side too.” As a result, Cook says, “These negotiations may not lead to an agreement, but they will mark a historic turning-point nonetheless. The delegitimization of Israel is truly under way, and the party doing most of the damage is the Israeli leadership itself.”

I think that the BDS movement, and more generally the movement for Palestinian rights, should be able to survive either way. If Cook is right, not only survival but rapid growth of the movement can be expected. If Finkelstein is correct, the situation will prove more complicated.

Cook is certainly right about one thing: we are at a crossroads, but where exactly the situation might lead us is not as clear as he and Finkelstein suggest. This means that those who support the Palestinians no matter in what format should think about these possibilities. There is as yet lead time to formulate suitable contingencies.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.


  6 comments for “The Future of the Palestinians

  1. Rehmat
    February 24, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Dear Finkelstein is totally wrong about PA, which doesn’t represent nine million Palestinians but the US-Israel interests. It’s democratically elected Hamas that represents Palestinian majority since 2006. The PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ mandate to lead PA expired in January 2009. Heis kept at that post by the US, EU and Israel.

    Israel has never been interested living in peace with a Palestinian state nextdoor.

    Stephen Lendman, an American Jewish writer, called Israel rogue state on December 23, 2013. “Israel is no democracy. It never was. For sure it’s not now. Its current government is its worse ever. It’s dominated by right-wing (fanatic Zionist Jews),” he said.

    Professor Richard Falk (Jewish), the outgoing United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine in his final report has accused Israel for committing ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians.

  2. rosemerry
    February 24, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I think and hope that Finkelstein is wrong. Of course the PA is corrupt, close to Israeli dealings and unrepresentative. If Israel is to be the State of all Jews, all Palestinians in refugee camps all over the region shold be asked their wishes, and the results should be respected, not allowing Abbas to give away the whole of Palestine. Netanyahu and his even more extreme partners have no intention of “conceding” any of the stolen land, and Kerry, like all the US “negotiators”, agrees.

    • February 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      With our “forward looking-forget the past” President and his administration’s propensity to leave everyday people to fend for themselves, here and abroad, in the interests of showing how much water they can carry for powerful people (including the Israeli ruling elite), I think Finkelstein’s prediction is all too likely to come true. But Finkelstein mentions Gaza and Hamas only in passing while Davidson doesn’t mention them at all – despite the fact they now comprise almost 40% of the Palestinian people there on the ground. Makes me wonder what’s going on in their minds to leave such a large part of the story out of the discussion.

  3. borat
    February 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Less than a week before Israel Apartheid Week opened on college campuses across the U.S. and UK, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired the first shot in Israel’s defense. Referring to the founders of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) as “classical anti-Semites in modern garb,” Netanyahu said the time has come to delegitimize those who delegitimize Israel.

    Netanyahu was likely referring to people such as Omar Barghouti, one of the main founders of the BDS movement and its chief ideologue.

    Barghouti claims his movement is opposed to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. His own statements, however, demonize Israel and fall well beyond the scope of legitimate criticism. At a speech in Los Angeles earlier this year, for example, Barghouti claimed that IDF soldiers shoot Palestinian children “for sport” just because they are “bored.”

    Still, criticism of Netanyahu’s statement came quickly. The Forward published a piece the following day with the unambiguous headline, “BDS is Not Anti-Semitism.” The writer, Emily Hauser, dismissed Netanyahu’s accusations as a cover for Israel’s presence in the West Bank.?
    And yet, Hauser also adds, “I do not doubt that some members of that movement are unrepentant anti-Semites — just as some members of the Greater Israel movement are unrepentant racists and Islamophobes.”

    It’s not just Hauser who acknowledges that a portion of the BDS movement is, indeed, anti-Semitic.

  4. borat
    March 2, 2014 at 10:53 am

    The Western media has bought into the notion that a new wave of Western boycotts against Israel is underway. But like so many trend stories, this one doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

    For Israelis, talk of boycotts brings back bad memories of the 1970s and ’80s. After the Yom Kippur War and the Arab oil embargo, scores of countries severed diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Europe turned a cold shoulder and many of the world’s biggest companies refused to do business with it. Israel’s pariah status not only hurt the economy, it dealt a blow to the Zionist dream of normalizing the Jews by giving them their own country.

    The supposed new wave of boycotts began last December when the Dutch water company Vitens severed ties with its Israeli counterpart Mekorot. Next came a loudly proclaimed boycott of Israeli universities by the American Studies Association.

    Then in January, Dutch pension fund PGGM said it would sell holdings in five Israeli banks, citing their role in helping to finance construction of West Bank settlements. Denmark’s Danske Bank was reported to have sold shares in Israel’s Bank Hapoalim, and Sweden’s Nordea was threatening to do the same to two other Israeli lenders. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund was said to have begun boycotting the property developer Africa Israel Investments and its Danya Cebus subsidiary.

    When Sodastream, a manufacturer of devices for making carbonated drinks at home, hired Scarlett Johansson to appear in Super Bowl ads, anti-Israel activists found a juicy target: an A-list celebrity and Oxfam ambassador endorsing a company with a plant in the West Bank. Ms. Johansson has since resigned from Oxfam. More recently it was reported that Deutsche Bank blacklisted Hapoalim, and that the Dutch company Boskalis pulled out of an Israeli port-construction tender due to boycott pressures.

    These reported boycott actions even prompted an Israeli cabinet meeting in February on how to respond. There were countless editorials for and against the boycott in newspapers around the world, strategies offered up on how to stop it and speculation about who would blacklist Israel next. Some commentators suggested the boycott was driving down the value of the Israeli shekel as well as SodaStream’s share price.

    But as soon as one examines these cases individually, the boycott story melts away. They are either not new, not motivated by the boycott movement or have limited impact.

    For instance, Danske will maintain its banking relationship with Hapoalim. It simply stopped buying shares in Hapoalim as a default policy for its investment banking clients; if a client wants the shares, Danske will happily buy them for the account. In any case, Danske made the decision almost a year ago and announced it in September, so it could hardly be part of a boycott “wave.”

    Nordea will take a few months to decide on divesting bank shares and says no other Israeli companies are candidates for its “exclusion” list. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund banned Africa Israel Investments from its portfolio nearly five years ago and was simply renewing the policy.

    Deutsche Bank has excluded Hapoalim from a single investment fund it set up for a specific client; otherwise, it is doing business with Israel as usual. Boskalis says that far from dropping out of the port tender, Israel disqualified it from the bidding.
    So how did this become an “exodus” from Israel, as the Financial Times headlined it in a February article?

    For the Western media, the boycott and all the ideological baggage it carries makes it irresistible. But the hysterical coverage was mostly a function of laziness (almost no one was fact-checking) and ignorance (boycott stories are typically covered by political reporters who know nothing about business, trade or investment).

    Even in Israel, the boycott is just too compelling a story for the facts to get in the way. For Israeli politicians on the left and their allies abroad, it serves as a useful stick for urging talks with the Palestinians. On the right, the boycott talk provides more proof that the world is arrayed against Israel and the Jews.

    The true story is that after nearly 10 years of campaigning, the global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement has not had the slightest economic impact. Its victories have consisted of coaxing a handful of pop stars and academics to cancel appearances in Israel, and winning empty, sanctimonious declarations of support from the likes of student governments, cooperative grocery stories and leftish church groups.

    Far from being isolated, Israel’s exports are reaching record highs and it attracts billions of dollars in foreign investment. In the weeks that Israel was supposedly under a boycott siege, Japan’s Rakuten agreed to buy the start-up Viber for $900 million and Ireland’s Covidien sealed a deal to buy Given Imaging for $860 million. China’s Bright Food was in talks to buy control of Israel’s biggest food maker Tnuva, and IBM, 2014 7:43 pm Volume Billion Lockheed-Martin and ERM all announced plans to open research and development centers in Israel. The Jewish state became the first non-European member of the nuclear research consortium CERN and was admitted as an observer to the Pacific Alliance, a free-trade bloc of five Latin American countries.

    A real boycott wave would be devastating for Israel both economically and morally. Indeed, the cost would be many times higher than it was a generation ago because the country’s economy is more reliant on international trade and cross-border investment. But for now the boycott is nothing more than a creature of the media’s imagination.

  5. borat
    March 4, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    In March 2014, on campuses around the world, and with the financial backing of Iran and other Islamic Fundamentalist theocracies, a small group of students will attempt to convince fellow students that Israel is Apartheid during Israel Apartheid Week.

    Like most democratic countries, Israeli society is far from perfect. Israel struggles with issues of identity and survival, with security and human rights. It struggles with issues of minority rights within a Jewish majority and most of all it struggles with an occupation that has plagued it since 1967.

    How to grant land to Palestinians, many of whom are yet to accept Israel’s right to even exist and are committed to Israel’s destruction.

    No one trusts the BDS and the Organizers of Israel Apartheid Week
    Most intelligent people understand that Israel Apartheid Week, a campaign founded by the BDS, is merely one propaganda tactic in a war to destroy Israel.

    In 1948, the Arab world refused to accept the United Nations’s creation of Israel (which also created a Palestinian State) and six Arabs states attacked the fledgling Jewish State in an attempt to destroy it. What was to be the Palestinian state was then occupied by Egypt and Jordan. Jordan went so far as to annex the West Bank to itself claiming it an integral part of Jordan.

    Again a few years later, Egypt tried to strangle the Jewish State by blockading the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. In 1967, once again, Egypt, Syria and Jordan attempted to destroy Israel, and in 1973 Egypt and Syria again attacked.

    With the failure of military action to destroy Israel, the Arab world has worked tirelessly to undermine the credibility of the Jewish state. Today the two primary tactics are political – BDS and trying to equate Israel to the heinous system of Apartheid in South Africa.

    The truth is, that Israel in one of the most democratic and free societies in the world. Israel itself practices none of the policies inherent in the horrors of Apartheid. Where Israel does however fail, is over the issue of occupation, in a similar way to the manner in which the British occupy the Falkland Islands, America occupies the Marshall Islands, China occupies Tibet, India occupies Kashmir etc.

    Would Israel Apartheid Week End if the Occupation Ended? – NO says BDS
    When the BDS movement was asked whether BDS ended if Israel ended its occupation of the West Bank, BDS was emphatic that the answer was – NO.

    This war to delegitimize Israel has nothing to do with Israeli occupation or Apartheid, it has everything to do with the destruction of Israel. The Arab and Muslim world refused to accept the establishment of Israel by the United Nations in 1948, and that battle to eliminate Jews from the Middle East continues today.

    Rather than solving the issue of acceptance, security and occupation, Israel Apartheid Week attempts to demonize and delegitimize. Israel Apartheid Week destroys the prospects of a peaceful resolution for Israelis and Palestinians – because for the radicals behind Israel Apartheid Week – peace is the enemy and destruction is the goal!

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