Rights for Peace

This Op-Ed by Youssef Munayyer in today’s New York Times sounds just the right note on the Netanyahu victory, and convinces me, at last, of the need for some version of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel–or more precisely, what I like to call “D without BS,” divestment from companies that promote the Israeli occupation and settlement enterprise, minus boycotts and sanctions.

Here’s Munayyer’s statement of the problem:

Israelis have grown very comfortable with the status quo. In a country that oversees a military occupation that affects millions of people, the biggest scandals aren’t about settlements, civilian deaths or hate crimes but rather mundane things like the price of cottage cheese and whether the prime minister’s wife embezzled bottle refunds.

For Israelis, there’s currently little cost to maintaining the occupation and re-electing leaders like Mr. Netanyahu. Raising the price of occupation is therefore the only hope of changing Israeli decision making. Economic sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s increased its international isolation and put pressure on the apartheid regime to negotiate. Once Israelis are forced to decide between perpetual occupation and being accepted in the international community, they may choose a more moderate leader who dismantles settlements and pursues peace, or they may choose to annex rather than relinquish land — provoking a confrontation with America and Europe. Either way, change will have to come from the outside.

Here’s his solution:

The old land-for-peace model must now be replaced with a rights-for-peace model. Palestinians must demand the right to live on their land, but also free movement, equal treatment under the law, due process, voting rights and freedom from discrimination.

Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election has convincingly proved that trusting Israeli voters with the fate of Palestinian rights is disastrous and immoral. His government will oppose any constructive change, placing Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And this collision has never been more necessary.

The election results will further galvanize the movement seeking to isolate Israel internationally. B.D.S. campaigns will grow, and more countries will move toward imposing sanctions to change Israeli behavior. In the past few years, a major Dutch pension fund divested large sums from Israeli banks active in the West Bank, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been divested from companies, like G4S and SodaStream, that operate in occupied territory.

There won’t be real change on the ground or at the polls without further pressure on Israel. And now, that pressure will increase. For this, we have Mr. Netanyahu to thank.

It’s taken me fifteen years of dithering skepticism about divestment to get to the point of agreeing with an analysis like Munayyer’s–and I think there are legitimate questions to be asked about the criteria to be used to decide questions of divestment–but the election results demonstrate that the time really has come to divest from the occupation. The failure to consider the adoption or promotion of divestment for fear of being accused of anti-Semitism has simply become a way of rewarding the Israelis for their intransigence in the West Bank. I’m sorry, but I can no longer believe in the fairy tale of civility, good will, desire for peace, or respect for rights that we’re all obliged to attribute to the Israelis. It’s not there. This election tells us that the writing is on the wall. We’ve written them blank checks for decades; they’ve rewarded us with contempt. It has to end.

Though I don’t know where he stands on divestment, I recommend Hussein Ibish’s recent essays on similar topics in The National and in Now.

Postscript, March 22, 2015: I missed this piece by William Saletan in Slate a few days ago, but it collects a lot of useful evidence, and seems to me exactly on target. (ht: Qasim Rashid’s FB page)

Postscript, March 24, 2015: Matt Faherty sends along this interesting piece from Harvard Business Review on what the author takes to be the relative inefficacy of divestment as a strategy for change or protest. Without disputing the author’s narrow claim (about investments), I’d say two things: (1) the author himself concedes that divestment played an important role in the devolution of South African apartheid, and (2) part of the case for divestment is “symbolic” rather than “instrumental”; one divests from an immoral enterprise from “clean hands” considerations, to avoid complicity in the immorality involved. But the topic could use further discussion.

The two best studies of the South African case that I know are Ronald Segal’s Sanctions Against South Africa, and Robert Kinloch Massie’s Loosing the Bonds: The United States and South Africa in the Apartheid Years. Massie’s book (which covers divestment) is of particularly direct relevance. Segal’s book, though valuable, is more about sanctions than divestment per se.

I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t really kept pace with the BDS literature on Israel/Palestine, but it’s expanding at a pretty rapid rate. The standard pro-BDS text is Omar Barghouti’s (et al) The Case for Sanctions against Israel. A standard anti-BDS text is Cary Nelson’s (et al) The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel.   I haven’t read either book, so I’m not recommending or endorsing, just mentioning them.

Postscript, April 3, 2015: There’s recently been a controversy at Princeton University about divestment from Israel. This letter from John Waterbury (emeritus professor of Politics) is a nice statement of the case for divestment “from all companies that contribute to or profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and continued siege of Gaza.”

I agree with the first conjunct but not the second. I think Princeton ought to divest from all companies that contribute to or profit from the Israeli occupation/settlement enterprise in the West Bank, but not from companies that contribute to/profit from the Gaza siege. Waterbury doesn’t mention that if Princeton divests from companies that contribute to and profit from the Israeli siege of Gaza, it ought to do the same for companies that contribute to and profit from the Egyptian blockade of Gaza. It expresses a double standard–and plays into the hands of divestment’s critics–to fail to mention Egypt in the same breath as Israel in this context, when both countries are doing the same thing. (In fairness to Waterbury, the original statement from Princeton Divests does explicitly mention Egypt.)

I’d also explicitly want to stipulate that divestment cannot be construed to involve objections to ventures like this one, as many advocates of divestment would like to assert. The company in question is not profiting from the occupation but profiting despite it. Unfortunately, the distinction between profiting from and profiting despite the occupation seems to be lost on many left-wing advocates of divestment, who seem willing to pounce on any profitable Israeli-Palestinian venture, simply because it is profitable and puts Israelis and Palestinians in cooperation with one another on capitalist or quasi-capitalist lines. I don’t accept that, and don’t want to be associated with it. Here’s an example of the sort of attitude I have in mind (from Electronic Intifada). The review of “Under the Sun” contained in the preceding link is both wrongheaded and egregiously dishonest, and is just one of many reasons why skepticism about the divestment movement is justified even if divestment turns out to be the right thing to do.

Postscript, April 10, 2015: So let me get this straight: A bank can be held liable in federal court for facilitating terrorist attacks when it funds the terrorist organizations behind the attack, even if the bank follows established compliance standards designed to avoid liability.  Meanwhile, it’s anti-Semitic to suggest that we divest from companies that play an active role in the state-sponsored Israeli expropriation of Palestinians, even when that enterprise involves torture and homicide. In other words, facilitation of terrorist attacks (by Muslims) deserves legal sanctions, but divesting from state-sponsored rights violations (under the auspices of a Jewish state) deserves defamation. The “principle” involved here, if you can call it that: Jewish lives matter; Palestinian lives don’t. Palestinian terrorism matters; Israeli rights violations don’t. As a bonus: reckless, well-poisoning ascriptions of “anti-Semitism” are fair game in defense of Israel. Call it what you want, but it isn’t justice.

10 thoughts on “Rights for Peace

  1. Just read through the history of Israel on Wikipedia…

    Why suppose the the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is inherently immoral? To the extent that occupation is in the service of settlement, sure – settlement is a clear-cut moral issue. But, whatever the moral costs, the occupation (and the construction of barricades and check-points, etc.) has successfully addressed security concerns regarding terrorists attacks (and prevented the organization of a Palestinian military). The obvious alternative (implemented in Gaza) has resulted in rockets-for-land, not land-for-peace. Maybe I’m ill-informed or morally obtuse in some way, but it seems to me that the on-going military occupation of the West Bank per se (not necessarily as it has been carried out) is a reasonable response to legitimate security concerns – and one that seems to have succeeded. The settlements, on the other hand, strike me as a clear-cut moral failing on the part of Israel (as are, perhaps, some of the ways of implementing the occupation).

    Relatedly, I’m skeptical about reading off fundamentally bad intentions from Israeli stubbornness on how it handles its security concerns. Occupation works, and though it is reasonable to demand sensitivity to its high moral costs, military actions always have pretty high moral costs (various rights-violations are justified or what would be rights-violations otherwise are not, depending on how you think of it, just for starters). It is less reasonable to simply demand that the occupation end. What is needed is a better, or good-enough, and politically viable alternative way of addressing the legitimate security concerns – then it is reasonable to demand that the occupation end. Given the ideological and political situation with the Palestinians, I’m not sure that such options exist (and again we have land-for-peace becoming peace-for-rockets in Gaza). Why not pressure Israel primarily on the settlements, both to gauge their reaction (and thus more definitively assess their intentions) and to make some progress on the ground? Maybe divestment is a good way to do that, though I worry that divestment is better suited to flat-out opposition to a regime in its entirety.


    • I think the issues you’ve raised can be clarified by getting a more fine-grained understanding of what “occupation” and “settlement” really mean, and how they relate to one another. You’re describing the two as though they could somehow be decoupled from one another, so that “occupation” represents a defensive measure against Palestinian terrorism, and “settlements” represents something else. The distinction doesn’t really correspond to realities on the ground. As far as the West Bank is concerned, “the occupation” is little more than the militarized basis of the settlement enterprise. If there were no settlements, there would essentially be no occupation. It’s a mistake to think that “the occupation” serves any important anti-terrorist function, except insofar as one thinks that the outright conquest of the West Bank and the wholesale expropriation of its entire Arab population is a justifiable anti-terrorist activity. And many settlers do.

      The Wikipedia entry on “Israel” doesn’t explain what needs explaining. I’d recommend reading this instead. I think the injustice of the policies and legal structure it describes is transparent. But “the occupation” refers, fundamentally, to the enforcement power for those policies. If the policies are immoral, as I think they clearly are, so is their enforcement.

      There is, to be sure, the need for anti-terrorism measures in the West Bank. But I’d say three things here. First, your comment implies that the credit for the “success” of anti-terrorism activity belongs entirely to Israel. Though Israel retains ultimate “control” over security in the West Bank, it shares those responsibilities with the Palestinian Authority. The PA doesn’t have a military, but it certainly has a sizable paramilitary anti-terrorist presence in the West Bank (centered in Ramallah, funded by the US government). So it’s an empirical question who gets credit for what; we can’t just assume a priori that when there is peace and quiet, the peace and quiet redounds to Israel’s credit, but when there’s terrorism, the violence redounds to the discredit of the PA.

      Second, your comment assumes that the only security concerns we need to think about are the ones that derive from Palestinian sources and are inflicted on Israeli victims. What about security concerns in the reverse direction? In fact, the Israeli occupation is a catastrophic failure in that respect: the Israel Defense Forces are either the main source of rights violations against the Palestinians, or the main facilitator of rights violations by settlers against Palestinians. This is under-reported in our press, but it’s an everyday fact of life in the West Bank, and if Americans were more directly confronted with it, their views of Israel would change pretty dramatically. I happen to have seen it with my own eyes when I spent a day in the city of Hebron and the village of Beit Umar in the West Bank back in 2013; I don’t think of myself as someone who reaches easily for the race card, but what I saw there was something directly out of the Jim Crow South. The Israeli military simply marched into the village, closed it off at will, arbitrarily drew a line in the middle of the village, held it by force of arms, and allowed settlers to help themselves to the village’s water supply.

      That’s one anecdote, but the spirit of the anecdote is captured in the film Five Broken Cameras, which I highly recommend. It’s hard to see how any of the IDF’s actions, captured in that film, have anything to do with the Israelis’ legitimate security concerns. What the film underscores is that everyday Palestinian security concerns have come to be overshadowed or eclipsed by our obsessive, sporadic fixation on spectacular acts of anti-Jewish violence by Islamic fundamentalists. Here’s another post I did here at PoT on that topic. This scene happens to have been caught on videotape, but it seems to be a pretty common occurrence.

      Third, I think it’s a mistake to equate the West Bank and Gaza. I haven’t been to Gaza, but I’ve been to the WB, and I don’t think the West Bank population has the pro-Hamas fundamentalist orientation that the Gazans have.

      Conceived in this way, I think it’s reasonable to demand that the occupation/settlement enterprise end. The US government has, for decades, fecklessly made that “demand” without seeing anything like progress toward it. In fact, though settlements are contrary to decades of US policy, our government lacks the will to affirm its own policy at the UN. But that really does seem to me a reprise of the Reagan Administration’s contemptible approach to South African apartheid. I don’t think the Israeli case is exactly comparable to the South African one–there are complex similarities and differences–but then again, what I’m recommending is different, too: not sanctions but divestment.

      We’ve now had almost fifty years of the Israeli occupation/settlement enterprise. It shows no sign of coming to an end, and Netanyahu’s recent candor suggests the explanation: the Israelis don’t want it to end; they want it to expand indefinitely to the indefinite detriment of the Palestinians. Having spoon-fed us the fraud of a two-state solution, they now have the audacity to tell us that they never really meant it. It’s a standard Israeli claim that if we do away with the two-state solution, we saddle Israel with apartheid. The Israelis have now elected a PM who has essentially come out and said that what Israelis describe as apartheid is to be fait accompli in the West Bank. Meanwhile, having once been complicitous in our own Jim Crow, and then in South African apartheid, we’re expected to support the Israeli occupation as well.

      If we really want the occupation to end, we have to enact measures that will exact a cost for its existence. I’m the last one to oppose divestment from other countries, like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, for their sins–but right now, it’s the Israeli moment, and the time is right for a re-assessement of that relationship. Our relations with South Africa survived the sanctions we imposed on it. Our relations with Israel can do the same–as long as what emerges from the process is a different kind of regime, one that we can look ourselves in the mirror about supporting. Considering the $150+ billion we’ve lavished on Israel, it’s the least we can demand.

      PS, I have two links to organizations on my Links page that document the nature of the Israeli occupation, B’Tselem (Israeli) and Al Haq (Palestinian). B’Tselem is less partisan, has a wealth of information, and is probably more accessible. For a book-length discussion, I’d recommend reading Lords of the Land: The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007. I think it justifies my skepticism about Israeli good will.


      • That’s all helpful food for thought, Irfan. I’d like to read the book that you recommend at the end there and I need to think more (and become more informed regarding) the relationship between the military occupation and settlement activity. Whatever the historical and present-day connection, though, security and Zionist theft/settlement remain logically distinct issues. And even if a big motive for favoring occupation over other security arrangements is favoring settlement, I don’t think the Israelis are being unreasonable in favoring occupation and apartheid-type partition as a bad, but nevertheless best or only practical, solution to the security problem. So calling them on the bad elements of their mixed motives is a bit unfair and unlikely to work. So my best guess at the right way forward in pressuring Israel to do the right thing is still to isolate the bad tribal/Zionist pro-theft motives/purposes and call them on those. If these bad motives are actually the main motives for occupation, then the situation is different. This does not seem right to me based on what I know…


        • It’s been a year since this exchange, but I’m revisiting it, because I’ve been thinking a lot about the occupation lately, so that the response to your comment now seems relatively obvious to me.

          You say:

          Whatever the historical and present-day connection, though, security and Zionist theft/settlement remain logically distinct issues.

          Security and theft may be logically distinct issues, but the politically relevant question is how tightly connected occupation and settlement actually are as a factual matter. There’s no way to address that by abstracting from the historical and present-day connections between occupation and settlement. The fact that security and theft are logically distinct is compatible with the occupation’s being tightly integrated with settlements, and existing for the sake of settlements.

          Actually, “logical compatibility” understates the point. The historical record is pretty clear: the occupation was a response to the 1967 war, and settlements came immediately in their wake. Before long, the two things became explicitly integrated on the grounds that settlement activity was an integral part of self-defense (in a very cynical and tendentious sense of “self-defense”). Within a year or two of the 1967 war, it became clear that the sheer existence of settlers created a pretext for importing a military apparatus into the West Bank, and also furnished a pretext for the expropriation of Palestinian land on “security grounds.” Further, the settlers were themselves armed (for the most part, the Palestinians were not), so that the settlers became a paramilitary presence in the West Bank. (There are paramilitary yeshivas in the West Bank.) At this point, it is really impossible to deny that occupation exists to facilitate settlement activity. The point is cogently made in Lords of the Land (which I just re-read) and also in Geoffrey Aaronson’s Creating Facts: Israel, Palestinians, and the West Bank (nicely summarized here).

          It also becomes obvious by a look at this map (scroll down to the map and click “launch”). The colored area (all colors except grey and black) represent full Israeli occupation and land fully open to Israel settlement. The black/grey areas combine Areas A and B. Area A is supposedly “full Palestinian control,” but is subject to Israeli incursions (essentially, =cities listed as black squares). Area B is Palestinian civil control but Israeli security control–and involves the bulk of the grey area (minus the black squares). You may conceptually be able to distinguish “security” from “settlements,” but how does that distinction relate to the facts depicted on the map? What part of the security apparatus is causally disconnected from the settlements? Practically all of the “security” in Areas B and C, plus the wall that constitutes the border of the West Bank, exists for the protection of the settlements. So the distinction between “security” and “settlements” makes no difference to conceptualizing facts on the ground. If there were no settlements, security arrangements in the West Bank would look radically different than they do. Most of it wouldn’t be there.

          As for this:

          And even if a big motive for favoring occupation over other security arrangements is favoring settlement, I don’t think the Israelis are being unreasonable in favoring occupation and apartheid-type partition as a bad, but nevertheless best or only practical, solution to the security problem.

          That presupposes that occupation and partition are the best or only solution to the security problem. I don’t see why they would be. For one thing, this conception of “security problem” just omits the Palestinians altogether, as though they couldn’t have security problems of their own, created by Israelis.

          But it also omits the fact that the Israelis made a deliberate choice to pursue security via settlements in the full knowledge that in doing so, they were creating a security problem that hadn’t previously existed. They deliberately, self-consciously decided to settle the West Bank by expropriating Palestinians, in the full knowledge that in doing so, they would expose the settlers to violence from the Palestinians, and then be “required” to protect those settlers by means of a more conspicuous and obtrusive military occupation of the WB (than would have existed had they not engaged in settlement).

          What seems not to have penetrated our consciousness (as Americans) is the sheer cynicism of the maneuver: the Israelis literally put civilians in harms’ way in order to have a pretext for protecting them, and then to have a pretext for permitting them to function as paramilitary militias. Then they have the audacity to complain that the Palestinians are attacking “civilian” targets! By their own admission, the settlers’ presence in the West Bank has a military function. The settlers are not civilian non-combatants, and never were. (I don’t mean to be suggesting that the Palestinian attacks on them are, all things considered, rational or justified. But they are not attacks on non-combatant civilians.)

          So calling them on the bad elements of their mixed motives is a bit unfair and unlikely to work. So my best guess at the right way forward in pressuring Israel to do the right thing is still to isolate the bad tribal/Zionist pro-theft motives/purposes and call them on those. If these bad motives are actually the main motives for occupation, then the situation is different. This does not seem right to me based on what I know…

          The motives aren’t mixed: the desire to integrate settlement and occupation is a matter of policy and public record, and goes back to the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which calls for the establishment of a “Greater Israel” (Eretz Israel). As the reviewer of Aaronson’s book accurately puts it: “[T]he book notes the basic continuity in the determination to make Israel’s control permanent by creating irreversible ‘facts’ and denying political rights to the Arab populations.” If they had wanted to do otherwise, they had 50 years to do it, and we had 50 years to induce them to do it. They didn’t, and neither did we. Verdict: Guilty as charged.


    • Michael,

      Two thoughts about your comment a few weeks after the fact:

      (1) I should have responded to the last clause of the the last sentence in your comment: I’m sure there are divestment proposals out there that express “flat-out opposition” to the very existence of Israel, but the better crafted one do not, e.g., Princeton Divests. The core idea of divestment, after all, is to stop investing in companies that profit from the objected-to policy. In the case of Israel, that would be, e.g., Caterpillar and REMAX. In instrumental terms, divestment probably won’t hurt even those companies very much; it’s symbolic. That’s a far cry from actually harming Israel’s security interests, or expressing opposition to Israel’s existence as such. And my version of divestment is even more modest than Princeton’s.

      (2) Your comment convinces me that we need a better, more explicit, and more rigorously worked-out account of what is wrong with the Israeli occupation/settlement enterprise. The standard left-wing account is not in my view adequate, and there is no non-left-wing account out there. So I’m going to try to put one together in a piecemeal way here at PoT, starting with a series of film reviews of documentaries on the occupation/settlements, followed by some on-the-ground reporting from the West Bank this summer.


      • I’d love to see more work toward the goal expressed in (2)… It may be that absent the acquiescence in Zionist/tribal theft, avenues for security other than continued occupation and apartheid-like partition would come into view for Israel. That could be part of a condemnation of Israeli motivations and actions that is more sophisticated than the typical left-wing condemnation…


        • I don’t think the Israeli left’s approach to the Israeli occupation is unsophisticated. I think it’s more sophisticated (and admirable) than almost anything I’ve seen from the American right (including the libertarian right). There’s actually an enormous amount of work on (2) out there. Here’s an example. The problem with it is that the normative emphases tend to be in the wrong places. The summary I just cited focuses on violations of international law, presupposes a right to ethno-national self-determination, and undercuts its condemnation of property rights violations by accepting positive rights and accepting the legitimacy of state land. That turns out to be standard left egalitarian doctrine–not unsophisticated, just wrong. So when they issue something like this, their normative assumptions are working at cross-purposes with their condemnation. But there’s no way to go it alone, and the right gives you nothing to work with. So work toward (2) requires reliance on work done by the left, and probably making common cause with them.

          Compare the work and attitudes of left-wing organizations like B’Tselem with so-called free market think tanks like the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies,or the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The whole existence of the right is predicated on pretending that there is no occupation, and that if you just keep expropriating the Palestinians, cashing American checks, making free market noises, and playing the anti-Semitism card when need be, life will be good. As far as I’m concerned, the choice between these groups is a no-brainer. I don’t consider myself as on the left on any issue, but I’m with them on this one.


    • You mean the differences between the South African and Israeli cases? That’s a huge topic, and I can’t spell them all out in detail, but here are a few:

      1. The Israeli occupation came about as a result of a defensive response to an act of aggression (by Egypt-Syria-Jordan); South African apartheid didn’t. (Whether Israel’s pre-emptive strike was defensive is a controversial claim, but on the whole I accept it. The point is that no matter how you slice the history, there is no South African analogue.)

      2. The Israeli occupation concerns Israel’s treatment of a minority population in a few circumscribed regions; South African apartheid encompassed all of South Africa.

      3. The Israelis face a more dangerous, theocratic, and irredentist terrorist threat in Islamic fundamentalism of the Hamas/Islamic Jihad variety; the South Africans faced ANC terrorism, but of a different variety, one that was more narrowly tailored to reasonable and achievable political goals.

      4. The South African anti-apartheid movement’s moral stature was greatly enhanced by the presence of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues; there is no corresponding Palestinian leadership. (I don’t mean to be universally putting down the Palestinian leadership; I just mean that as a whole, they don’t rise to the level of Mandela et al.)

      5. Though I don’t accept the underlying assumptions of Zionism, given the history of anti-Semitism in the 20th century, Zionism is certainly more justified or understandable than apartheid. Anyway, while I consider myself an anti-Zionist, I would agree with most Israelis that we can’t reasonably aim in the Israeli case for some direct analogue of the contemporary South African outcome. The ANC now rules South Africa, but it would be unreasonable to demand a political structure in which the PLO comes to rule Israel within a comparable time frame, and I wouldn’t advocate such a thing.

      6. I would tentatively say that South African apartheid was more intense in its repressive features than the Israeli occupation currently is, but this is a tricky claim that I wouldn’t insist on. I guess it’s safer to say that there’s a bit of apples and oranges involved in the comparison of the Israeli and South African cases, because there is no direct way to compare the post-Oslo division of the West Bank (Areas A, B, C) with the South African system (though there are complex similarities–too complex to get into here). I would say (and have said) that the worst features of the Israeli occupation are comparable to apartheid or Jim Crow, however. There is no effective difference between Israeli policy in Hebron and environs, and (to change the example) life in Selma or Montgomery back in the day.

      There are probably more things to say, but I’ll leave it there.


  2. Pingback: Updated: “Rights for Peace” | Policy of Truth

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