The Americans are preoccupied with their presidential elections, elections that regardless of the outcome will result in a new administration and unknown set of domestic and international priorities. The Israelis are also busy with elections. The first wave on 17 September in the Kadima Party primaries to select a new leader following the decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down in September in the face of extensive police investigations and possible indictments. Then, perhaps, if and when the new leader of Kadima is unable to form a government, national elections will be held in Israel in early 2009. Meanwhile, the Palestinian internal situation has been in a fractured state—between the Hamas and Fatah, Gaza and the West Bank—in large part due to US and Israeli meddling and pressure on the Palestinians to reverse their democratic choice of January 2006. Once again, the Palestinians are compelled to understand, be patient and wait due to the crises of the Israelis and Americans.
Yet the situation on the ground does not remain on hold pending Israeli and American elections. While current negotiations focus on “everything and nothing” as admitted by Prime Minister Olmert, Israel is strengthening its occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since the beginning of the Annapolis process in November 2007, for example, Israel has almost doubled the building of settlements in the West Bank, according to a report issued yesterday by the Israeli group Peace Now . Simultaneously, the number of Israeli building tenders for settlements in East Jerusalem has increased by a factor of 38 over the same period in 2007.
The Annapolis Agreement states unambiguously that “the parties also commit to immediately implement their respective obligations under the performance-based road map,” a document that obligates Israel to “freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).” At Annapolis, the United States crowned itself supreme judge to “monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitments of both sides to the Road Map.” The utter lack of American political will to fulfill this position is evidenced by the tepid statements issued by Secretary Rice and the US State Department concerning the “unhelpful” ongoing construction of settlements. Leaks to the media last month suggested that General (retired) James Jones, the US Security Coordinator for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was set to issue a “very harsh” report concerning Israel’s definition of its security interests in the West Bank, interests which include the bolstering of settlements. Such a report has yet to be released, although the leak served to provide the illusion of a relevant critical voice within the US administration of Israeli actions.
Israeli supporters of the failed Oslo process were quick to designate Annapolis as “the only game in town” last November, demonizing political criticism of this tried and failed formula as an act against peace itself and the will of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. Learning nothing from the political failure of a scant few years ago, these Oslo warriors again supported secret negotiations (and thus the illusion that progress was being made) while discouraging Israeli political accountability and public participation in discussions of how to ensure that Annapolis, unlike the Oslo process, would not again result in even fewer chances for peace and the socioeconomic marginalization of huge swathes of the Israeli public for the benefit of a few internationally-connected Israeli businessmen living in Tel Aviv.
The sociopolitical situation in the region is vastly different than it was during the Oslo heyday of the 1990s. Israel’s 60+ year reliance on military might and force to ensure its national agenda has proven irrelevant in the 21st century of multiple power spheres and shifting alliances. In response to (amongst other issues) the catastrophic American-led occupation of Iraq, Israel’s failed 2006 war against Lebanon, and of course the ongoing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, the peoples of the Middle East have placed themselves on the front lines of global resistance to American neoliberal imperialism. National resistance movements, from Lebanon to Iran, from Iraq to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, have responded to the US and Israeli military-economic designs and proven to the world’s military forces that might is not enough.
Yet the vast majority of Israelis, with a blind and arrogant ignorance historically shared by occupying powers, believe they are living in the closest approximation of peace possible for them today. Palestinian operations within Israel have all but disappeared, Israeli relations with the Western world (upgrading of relations with the EU, negotiations to join the OECD, lavish international attendance at it’s 60th birthday bash in May, etc.) have perhaps never been better while the immediate price paid for the occupation in the lives of soldiers is exceptionally low. While Olmert and Kadima may have been elected in March 2006 on a “peace” platform of unilateral disengagement from Israeli defined sections of the Gaza Strip and West Bank (no talk of the occupied Syrian Golan or East Jerusalem, of course), no real public pressure has been exerted by Israelis on their failed and now irrelevant government to even make reference to its past political promises.
In this current political context, one of the sole ways that local and international civil society groups can tangibly promote an end to the Israeli occupation of the OPT and the establishment of a just peace and social justice for all Palestinians and Israelis is by honoring the public call of Palestinian civil society and embark on boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) campaigns. The campaigns, easily adapted to the social, political, and historical realities and requirements of civil society groups throughout the world, provide a tangible means for demanding Israeli accountability and taking of responsibility, values (and actions) necessary for even broaching the topic of peace after more than 100 years of Palestinian dispossession and displacement.
Israeli opponents, including all mainstream ‘peace’ groups and NGOs, issue dire warnings (if they bother at all) of how BDS will serve only to alienate Israeli public opinion and distance wider groups of people from peace. However, the Palestinian people cannot be held hostage to any necessary or imagined internal Israeli social-political-psychological processes. The Israeli occupation of 1967 must end, and must end immediately. After the occupation ends, the long term work required to enable a joint life of peace and justice for Palestinians and Israelis, as an integral and progressive part of the Middle East, becomes a top priority.
Israeli human rights and peace activists have failed for over 40 years to hold their own society accountable for the occupation as a system, and not simply a collection of human rights violations that can be “caught” on film and dealt (or not) within the Israeli legal system. The aforementioned Palestinian call invites “conscientious Israelis to support this call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.” Israelis who desire an end to the occupation should welcome this Palestinian invitation and assistance in holding their government accountable and generating positive political change; they have proven unable to do this alone. Human rights violations are committed not to violate human rights per se, but to further political goals. Israeli human rights groups can be inspired and learn much from their Palestinian colleagues, such as Addameer, Defence of Children-Palestine, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and many other Palestinian and international human rights organizations about how to promote human rights in the existing political environment and not in a theoretical and legal vacuum.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recently warned that “the pressure, the international pressure, this can lead to clashes […] to violence as we had […] after Camp David 2000 and the circumstances, in a way, are similar.” Livni blames not the Israeli occupation but international pressure for a potential outbreak of future violence. However, for over 40 years, Israel has proven without a shadow of a doubt that barring internationally justified Palestinian resistance to the occupation and strong international political pressure, there will be no peace and justice.