In the world of hasbara–Israel advocacy–it is commonly suggested that the best way to make Israel’s case is by emphasizing that Israel wants peace: pointing to Israel’s willingness to negotiate, its withdrawals from territory, its evacuation of settlements, its prisoner releases, the settlement freezes, the moves to help establish and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. It’s true that Israel has done all of these things, but how is Israel’s standing in the world doing? Have peace talks and the surrender of territory done anything to placate those who only ever respond to these moves by calling for still more Israeli concessions? The hard truth is that today, in many circles, Israel’s legitimacy is in a worse place than it’s ever been. Israel negotiates and concedes, yet the movement to boycott and demonize Israel has only grown increasingly strident.
Israel has been locked down in the latest round of negotiations for months now. To make these talks happen Israel was first compelled to consent to the release of 104 convicted Palestinian terrorists. In the past Israel has been forced to freeze Jewish communities in the West Bank and even projects in Jerusalem. In both cases these concessions were to no avail. President Obama and Secretary Kerry regularly threaten Israel that should this current round of allegedly last-chance negotiations fail, Israel will be cast asunder to meet its fate in a cold world of boycotts and diplomatic isolation. Concessions and goodwill from Israel are rarely cause for praise from Western allies, they have simply come to be expected.
The boycott threat that Obama and Kerry try to use to panic Israel into doing whatever they instruct is really a case in point. Israel doesn’t await a wave of calls for boycotts if these talks fail; it faces them now. If anything, while this past round of Israeli concessions and negotiations have dragged on, the call for the boycott of Israel has only become louder. Across Europe and on American campuses, the campaign for boycotts is becoming frenetic. Oxfam’s attack on Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream made the headlines but there have been many cases that didn’t. In Europe a Dutch pension fund and several Scandinavian banks have already divested from Israel, while on both sides of the Atlantic the student campaign for boycotts has become particularly ugly. As Jonathan Tobin wrote about yesterday, the BDS campaign has even come to propagate racist hate speech. During a boycott vote only last night at King’s College, London, Jewish students were first hectored and reduced to tears, then mocked and taunted by BDS students.
At the very least, the fact that all of this goes on while Israel is in negotiations to try and end its presence in the West Bank should convince us that this has nothing to do with the “occupation.” Omar Barghouti, one of the leading founders of BDS, has been unequivocal in saying that the creation of two states would not end calls for boycotts. Yet if it is true that none of this is about creating a Palestinian state but rather opposing a Jewish one, then where does this leave notions about land for peace? Indeed, it would seem that on this point the boycotters are consistent with the Palestinians’ own refusal to let go of the desire to end Israel, even if it prevents them from getting a state themselves.
In a hard-hitting follow-up piece for Mosaic, Yoav Sorek tells us that since the beginning of the Oslo peace process, when Israel reneged on its pledge to itself not recognize or negotiate with the terrorist PLO, the net result has not only been unprecedented waves of carnage and violence, but the onset of deep self-doubt about Israel’s own national legitimacy. By promoting the idea that the conflict is a territorial one, Israel at once legitimized the PLO and undermined its own legitimacy before the world, as well as to itself. Accepting the land-for-peace equation meant that Israel was now saying it was the problem, not Arab annihilationism toward the Jewish state, but rather its occupation of “Palestinian land.”
Israel has placed itself in the dock by endorsing land-for-peace. By promoting this idea Israel accepts that its activities over the 1949 armistice lines are illegitimate if not illegal. For the international community, land for peace means that Israel withdraws from territory and gets peace in return. By that logic the absence of peace is on account of the presence of Israelis in occupied land. Israel knows that it can’t hand over territory to those who will only use it to advance warfare against its people. So Israel is forced to say one thing and do another; the debate becomes fixated on whether or not the Palestinians are really a partner for peace and the Israelis just appear dishonest. Nor does Israel get any praise for the withdrawals it makes for, as Evelyn Gordon has argued previously, by denying its claim to the land Israel earns the status of a thief only partially returning what never belonged to her.
Sorek suggests that asserting to the world Israel’s legal rights in the West Bank is the only viable option left. Once Israel establishes that it has the land by right, only then can it effectively confront Arab rejectionism, which negotiations and land withdrawals actually spur on. It would seem that if Israel cannot tolerate the status quo then it must either unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank or otherwise annex it. But it’s quite possible that further withdrawals might actually damage Israel’s legitimacy more than annexation would.