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    Middle East
     Apr 28, '14

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Israel-Palestine peace talks hit the wall
By Richard Silverstein

Time to move on?
The New York Times published an editorial, "Time to Move On", all but calling for Obama to abandon the peace talks and adopt a policy of benign neglect regarding the parties:
It is time for the administration to lay down the principles it believes must undergird a two-state solution, should Israelis and Palestinians ever decide to make peace. Then President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should move on ...

... An Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is morally just and essential for the security of both peoples. To achieve one will require determined and courageous leaders and populations on both sides that demand an end to the occupation. Despite the commitment of the United States, there's very little hope of that now.
But what is the practical effect of such abandonment? First, it

delights Netanyahu. His primary goal from the beginning of the Obama administration has been either to outlast the president politically (which is why he aired anti-Obama ads during the last campaign) or wear him down through exhaustion. If the talks fail, Netanyahu will have succeeded.

It would be foolish for the Israelis to believe that the region will, in the absence of US involvement, remain at status quo ante. History suggests that when the sides are left to their own devices, the radicals get to work. Provocation, violence, and war inevitably follow. The destabilization leads outside parties to resume their efforts to broker peace. Then the cycle resumes.

At least, that is the conventional narrative - one Israel has been happy to live with since 1967.

But with each failure, Israel grows increasingly more isolated from the rest of the world. Its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories grows increasingly more unpopular, and the much vaunted two-state solution grows increasingly distant and irrelevant.

The grassroots response
As official efforts falter, grassroots movements like BDS - "boycott, divest, and sanction" - gain in popularity. That is why Israel has devoted so much money and diplomatic effort to smearing BDS as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. For Israel, the newest mantra is "de-legitimization", the alleged attempt by the "radical left" to destroy Israel. In truth, BDS is a non-violent effort that embraces three main principles: ending the occupation, the right of return, and guaranteeing full, equal rights to Palestinians living inside Israel proper.

Those talking points appear increasingly attractive as Israel becomes increasingly rejectionist. Though BDS does not explicitly favor a one-state solution, any reasonable observer, including many centrist Israeli journalists and political analysts, concede that this is the direction events are taking.

But in the face of opposition from Israel and the United States to a one-state solution, how would you get there? Recalling the fall of apartheid South Africa, it took several years for the sanctions movement to gain traction. It faced the same type of opposition from liberals and conservatives who believed it was a solution too extreme or alienating for whites. Over time though, international leaders, business executives, and activists came to understand that the pain of sanctions was much less than the long-term suffering apartheid had inflicted on black South Africans.

Through the BDS movement, Israeli companies and products will become targets for boycott. Foreign companies aiding in the occupation will also be tainted. Europe will lead the way in this, and the United States will follow behind, much like the South Africa paradigm in the 1980s.

All this has already begun happening. The largest Dutch pension fund announced it would boycott Israeli banks because of their investments in the Occupied Territories. Norway's sovereign wealth fund similarly divested from two Israeli companies, one of which is owned by Lev Leviev, who builds Israeli settlements and mines conflict diamonds in Africa. Jordan Valley farmers have lost US$30 million in sales to European Union countries over the past year (15% of their overall market). Academic associations in the United Kingdom and United States have passed resolutions endorsing BDS.

Though Israel has a robust economy largely unscathed by the financial turmoil of the past decade, it is export-based and anchored by technology services and products, including weapons sales - all of which could be vulnerable to an effective boycott. Moreover, Israeli elites enjoy their dual nationalities, foreign passports, vacations abroad, and second homes in Europe and America. If BDS puts those luxuries out of reach, it will have a strong psychological effect. The Israeli center has been only too happy to go along with occupation as long as it doesn't have to see it or think about it or face the impact of it. But if those factors begin hitting closer to home, all that could change.

The weight of history
Though the nationalist Israeli government believes it can weather this storm, Israel cannot do so indefinitely. Eventually, the swell of opposition will catch up to it. At that point, the attitude of American and European leaders will change from tacit acceptance of Israeli apartheid and occupation to outright opposition. With enough resonance in certain sectors of Israeli society, a political leader could arise who would buck the trend of rejectionism and ultra-nationalism that has ruled the country for the past few decades.

The prospect may appear unlikely or out of reach now. But this is what many said in 1989 before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is what many said during the era of the "Troubles" when it appeared the Irish and their British overseers would kill each other forever. Similarly, it is what Americans said in the decades leading up the birth of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.

Conflicts based on deep injustice and imbalances of power between disparate groups have a habit of imploding under their own weight. Despite the deadlocked political process in Israel-Palestine, there is no reason to assume it cannot happen there too.

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, which is devoted to examining the Israeli national security state and promoting Israeli democracy. He has written for Ha'aretz, The Nation, the Forward, Comment is Free, Truthout, and Tikkun Magazine.

(Posted with permission from Foreign Policy In Focus)

(Copyright 2014 Foreign Policy In Focus)

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