Commentary Magazine

BDS: Sudden Converts to Caution

Wikipedia Commons.

As I write, we do not know what might go into President Trump’s planned announcement on Jerusalem. But on at least some of our college campuses, protests are already being prepared.

At Oklahoma University, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) are set to argue that any declaration, even if it is merely an acknowledgment of Israel’s claim to West Jerusalem as its capital, “will fuel extremism, violence, and tension in Palestine and the Middle East, and the consequences will be costly for all the parties involved.” SJP of the City College of New York quoted American Muslims for Palestine to the effect that any declaration will “unleash chaos in the Arab World.”

This is pretty rich. Students for Justice in Palestine is the campus wing of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS and SJP laud figures like Ali Abunimah, a fixture on the anti-Israel campus speaking circuit, whose apologetics on behalf of Hamas are well-documented, and Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the  Liberation of Palestine, known mainly for her work as a hijacker. Hatem Bazian, chair of the national board of American Muslims for Palestine, is most recently in the news for sharing a blatantly anti-Semitic tweet. He apologized, but he also has a track record.

Faced in 2015 with an opportunity to condemn violence against civilians during the “knife intifada,” BDS organizations instead issued statements of solidarity. “A new generation of Palestinians is marching on the footsteps of previous generations, rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid.” But now, they worry about fueling extremism?

While OU-SJP and SJP of the City College of New York mumble about the U.S. losing its status as an honest broker and the threat to the peace process, SJP at Florida State University is more honest. They observed that “long before this administration Palestinians have had no choice but to understand American presidents as agents of the same imperialism that motivated the colonization of their land in the first place.”

Indeed, the BDS movement has never been a supporter of the two-state solution and has long maintained strategic ambiguity regarding the legitimacy of Israel on even one square inch of land in the Middle East. The original and never-abandoned 2005 BDS mission statement demanded an end to the Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.”

There are, of course, questions of prudence to be considered in affirming Israel’s right to a capital in Jerusalem. As David Makovsky and Dennis Ross, both old peace process hands, now of the Washington Institute for Near East policy, argue, there are reasons to be worried about just what Trump’s statement will say. As these authors also note, though, Israel’s claims not just on Jerusalem but the rest of historical Palestine have been called into question by the United Nations, which has politicized the issue and hardened positions on both sides.

Counterintuitively, President Trump’s move on Jerusalem has been rendered a good deal more plausible by the efforts of anti-Israel activists and nations to undermine the very legitimacy of Israel. The extremists of BDS who today are yapping about what is and is not a final status negotiation issue have done everything they can to undermine the idea that there can be any peace with a country that some of its most celebrated supporters consider supernaturally evil.

No sensible statesman will discount the potential human and policy costs of a proposed action, regardless of who is to blame for imposing the costs. From the standpoint of prudence, the best argument for a U.S. announcement regarding Jerusalem’s status is to make it clear to the Palestinian side, as the international community has refused to do, that they have nothing to gain by ratcheting up pressure, through violent and nonviolent means. It should be clear by now they will not weaken Israel nor will they gain concessions beyond the extraordinary ones offered thus far. That gain certainly has to be weighed against costs, and as Makovsky and Ross argue, just how the statement is worded matters in that weighing.

But the BDS movement, which has thrown caution to the winds thus far, and encouraged violence and extremism, has no right to fret about this weighing now.

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