By Thomas Buonomo | (Informed Comment) | – –
It is clear that the Israeli government under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no intention of entering into serious negotiations with the Palestinians on a two-state solution to their decades-long conflict.
Netanyahu has stated explicitly that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel and his government’s authorization of settlement expansions as it was engaged in talks with the Palestinian Authority in the spring of 2014 was a clear signal that it had no real interest in negotiating in the first place but was merely doing so in order to placate the U.S. Nevertheless, Israeli voters reelected him and his cabinet’s composition reflects the power of the settler movement.
However ardent advocates of peace such as John Kerry undoubtedly are, the peace talks under U.S. auspices have become little more than political theater, in which successive U.S. administrations have attempted to engage both sides, failed to persuade them to come to a viable agreement, and then declined to exert any substantive political or economic pressure—despite having enormous leverage over both sides in the form of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars per year, the vast majority allocated to the Israeli military. The apparent reason for this is that no administration is willing to enter into a battle with a U.S. Congress deeply influenced by the Israel lobbies, that it would almost certainly lose.
Given that the U.S. executive branch is effectively impotent due to a U.S. legislature that is almost unconditionally supportive of Israel because of the power of AIPAC and associated organizations, arguably the most effective short-term recourse is a popular movement that is willing to directly impose costs on Israel for its provocative behavior in the West Bank. Supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to reduce financial flows to the settlements is the way to do so.
The BDS movement has been demonized as implacably hostile to Israel. In fact, there is a spectrum of views and tension within the movement on its long-term objectives. Only some elements of the movement are inimical to Israel itself; most object to the Israelis squatting on Palestinian territory in the territories occupied in 1967.
There is no reason why Americans need support the maximalist goals of the movement’s more radical participants in order to support the basic objectives of BDS. There are, admittedly, those who refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Others urge an academic boycott that would be inimical to the free exchange of information (and would punish anti-settlement Israelis along with those who dream of “Greater Israel.” Supporting the movement in pursuit of the more limited objective of achieving a two-state solution is, however, both a moral and arguably the most effective way of pursuing peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel is America’s ally, the most mature democracy in the Middle East, the most aligned in terms of values, and a nation that has endured many traumas. None of these can be accepted as justifications for spurning peace with the Palestinians.
The longer the U.S. government fails to hold Israel accountable for its provocative behavior, the greater the impetus Iran will have to maintain an equally uncompromising policy against Israel. Radical Islamist groups challenging the legitimacy of Arab-Muslim governments that have crafted more moderate policies toward Israel will continue to cultivate support within these countries based in part on this issue. And the U.S. will continue to suffer from militant blowback because of it. (To be clear, the only way to ultimately address many of these hostile actors is through military means but it would be easier to do so if the U.S. also more effectively addressed those grievances that generate passive or active support for them.)
The Middle East is plagued by many complex problems that are both independent of the Israeli-Palestinian problem and that have eclipsed it in terms of their immediacy. Iraq and Syria are the most serious of these. Yet Middle East policy experts who argue that these problems do not have any linkage or that they should be placed on the backburner while other crises are addressed are simply disingenuous and supportive of the status quo of gradual Israeli territorial expansion, whether or not they will acknowledge it.
Joining the BDS movement even with the limited objective of achieving a two-state solution is a serious commitment. Strident Zionists will attempt to smear them with accusations of anti-Semitism and other malicious political tactics intended to intimidate and dissuade people from effectively engaging on this issue. Yet given a Congress congenitally unable to be even-handed on these issues, it has arguably become the most effective way in the short term of challenging policy inertia that is taking the U.S. down the dark and senseless road of civilizational confrontation with the Muslim world. This scenario is by no means inevitable but could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if Americans cede the political battlefield to the Israeli settler movement and its Jewish American and apocalyptic Christian Zionist allies.
The settler movement demands that its expansionist religious ideology be accommodated through the force of the state of Israel, aided and abetted by American taxpayer dollars. Americans must hold true to the essential principle of separation of religion and state that is the best defense against the tragic and foolish sectarian conflicts ravaging the Middle East and increasingly inflicting pain on us at home.
Thomas Buonomo is a geopolitical risk analyst specializing in Middle East affairs. His writing on Iran, Israel, and U.S. policy in the Middle East has been published by the Atlantic Council, The National Interest, Huffington Post, The Hill, CQ Roll Call, The Humanist, and Informed Comment, among others.