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July 21/28, 2014

Palestinians protest
the separation barrier
19
in the West Bank
city of Tulkarem,
May 31, 2014.

The Nation.

ON ISRAEL-PALESTINE AND BDS

Those dedicated to the Palestinian cause should think carefully about the tactics they choose.
by NOAM CHOMSKY
he misery caused by israels actions in the
occupied territories has elicited serious concern
among at least some Israelis. One of the most outspoken, for many years, has been Gideon Levy,
a columnist for Haaretz, who writes that Israel
should be condemned and punished for creating insufferable life under occupation, [and] for the fact that a country
that claims to be among the enlightened nations continues
abusing an entire people, day and night.
He is surely correct, and we should add something
more: the United States should also be condemned and
punished for providing the decisive military, economic,
diplomatic and even ideological support for these crimes.
So long as it continues to do so, there is little reason to

Noam Chomsky,
Institute Professor
emeritus at MIT,
has written many
books and articles
on international
affairs, in particular on Israel
and Palestine.

expect Israel to relent in its brutal policies.


The distinguished Israeli scholar Zeev Sternhell, reviewing the reactionary nationalist tide in his country,
writes that the occupation will continue, land will be
conscated from its owners to expand the settlements, the
Jordan Valley will be cleansed of Arabs, Arab Jerusalem
will be strangled by Jewish neighborhoods, and any act of
robbery and foolishness that serves Jewish expansion in the
city will be welcomed by the High Court of Justice. The
road to South Africa has been paved and will not be blocked
until the Western world presents Israel with an unequivocal choice: Stop the annexation and dismantle most of the
colonies and the settler state, or be an outcast.
One crucial question is whether the United States will

stop undermining the international consensus, which favors a two-state settlement along the internationally recognized border (the Green Line established in the 1949
ceasere agreements), with guarantees for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of
all states in the area and their right to live in peace within
secure and recognized boundaries. That was the wording of a resolution brought to the UN Security Council
in January 1976 by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, supported by
the Arab statesand vetoed by the United States.
This was not the rst time Washington had barred a
peaceful diplomatic settlement. The prize for that goes
to Henry Kissinger, who supported Israels 1971 decision
to reject a settlement offered by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, choosing expansion over securitya course
that Israel has followed with US support ever since.
Sometimes Washingtons position becomes almost comical, as in February 2011, when the Obama administration vetoed a UN resolution that supported ofcial US
policy: opposition to Israels settlement expansion, which
continues (also with US support) despite some whispers
of disapproval.
It is not expansion of the huge settlement and infrastructure program (including the separation wall) that is
the issue, but rather its very existenceall of it illegal, as
determined by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice, and recognized as such by virtually the entire world apart from Israel and the United
States since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who downgraded illegal to an obstacle to peace.
One way to punish Israel for its egregious crimes
was initiated by the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom in
1997: a boycott of settlement products. Such initiatives
have been considerably expanded since then. In June,
the Presbyterian Church resolved to divest from three
US-based multinationals involved in the occupation.
The most far-reaching success is the policy directive of
the European Union that forbids funding, cooperation,
research awards or any similar relationship with any
Israeli entity that has direct or indirect links to the
occupied territories, where all settlements are illegal,
as the EU declaration reiterates. Britain had already di-

July 21/28, 2014

The Nation.

Failed
initiatives
harm the
victims by
shifting
attention to
irrelevant
issues and
by wasting
opportunities
to do
something
meaningful.

The Presbyterian
Church divested from
Caterpillar because its
products contribute
to the Israeli
occupation.

rected retailers to distinguish between goods originating from Palestinian producers and goods originating
from illegal Israeli settlements.
Four years ago, Human Rights Watch called on Israel
to abide by its international legal obligation to remove
the settlements and to end its blatantly discriminatory
practices in the occupied territories. HRW also called
on the United States to suspend nancing to Israel in an
amount equivalent to the costs of Israels spending in support of settlements, and to verify that tax exemptions for
organizations contributing to Israel are consistent with
U.S. obligations to ensure respect for international law,
including prohibitions against discrimination.
There have been a great many other boycott and divestment initiatives in the past decade, occasionallybut
not sufcientlyreaching to the crucial matter of US
support for Israeli crimes. Meanwhile, a BDS movement
(calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions) has
been formed, often citing South African models; more
accurately, the abbreviation should be BD, since sanctions, or state actions, are not on the horizonone of
the many signicant differences from South Africa.
he opening call of the bds movement, by a
group of Palestinian intellectuals in 2005, demanded that Israel fully comply with international law
by (1) Ending its occupation and colonization of
all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; (2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of
the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
(3) Respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of
Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
This call received considerable attention, and deservedly so. But if were concerned about the fate of the victims, BD and other tactics have to be carefully thought
through and evaluated in terms of their likely consequences. The pursuit of (1) in the above list makes good
sense: it has a clear objective and is readily understood by
its target audience in the West, which is why the many initiatives guided by (1) have been quite successfulnot only
in punishing Israel, but also in stimulating other forms
of opposition to the occupation and US support for it.
However, this is not the case for (3). While there is
near-universal international support for (1), there is virtually no meaningful support for (3) beyond the BDS
movement itself. Nor is (3) dictated by international
law. The text of UN General Assembly Resolution 194
is conditional, and in any event it is a recommendation,
without the legal force of the Security Council resolutions that Israel regularly violates. Insistence on (3) is a
virtual guarantee of failure.
The only slim hope for realizing (3) in more than
token numbers is if longer-term developments lead to
the erosion of the imperial borders imposed by France
and Britain after World War I, which, like similar borders, have no legitimacy. This could lead to a no-state
solutionthe optimal one, in my view, and in the real
world no less plausible than the one-state solution that
is commonly, but mistakenly, discussed as an alternative
to the international consensus.

JUSTIN MCINTOSH

20

July 21/28, 2014

21

The Nation.

The case for (2) is more ambiguous. There are prohibitions


against discrimination in international law, as HRW observes.
But pursuit of (2) at once opens the door to the standard glass
house reaction: for example, if we boycott Tel Aviv University because Israel violates human rights at home, then why not boycott
Harvard because of far greater violations by the United States?
Predictably, initiatives focusing on (2) have been a near-uniform
failure, and will continue to be unless educational efforts reach the
point of laying much more groundwork in the public understanding for them, as was done in the case of South Africa.
Failed initiatives harm the victims doublyby shifting attention
from their plight to irrelevant issues (anti-Semitism at Harvard,
academic freedom, etc.), and by wasting current opportunities to
do something meaningful.
Concern for the victims dictates that in assessing tactics,
we should be scrupulous in recognizing what has succeeded
or failed, and why. This has not always been the case (Michael
Neumann discusses one of many examples of this failure in the
Winter 2014 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies). The same
concern dictates that we must be scrupulous about facts. Take the
South African analogy, constantly cited in this context. It is a very
dubious one. Theres a reason why BDS tactics were used for
decades against South Africa while the current campaign against
Israel is restricted to BD: in the former case, activism had created
such overwhelming international opposition to apartheid that
individual states and the UN had imposed sanctions decades before the 1980s, when BD tactics began to be used extensively in
the United States. By then, Congress was legislating sanctions
and overriding Reagans vetoes on the issue.

Years earlierby 1960global investors had already abandoned South Africa to such an extent that its nancial reserves
were halved; although there was some recovery, the handwriting was on the wall. In contrast, US investment is owing into
Israel. When Warren Buffett bought an Israeli tool-making rm
for $2 billion last year, he described Israel as the most promising
country for investors outside the United States itself.
While there is, nally, a growing domestic opposition in the
United States to Israeli crimes, it does not remotely compare with
the South African case. The necessary educational work has not
been done. Spokespeople for the BDS movement may believe they
have attained their South African moment, but that is far from
accurate. And if tactics are to be effective, they must be based on a
realistic assessment of actual circumstances.
Much the same is true of the invocation of apartheid. Within
Israel, discrimination against non-Jews is severe; the land laws are
just the most extreme example. But it is not South Africanstyle
apartheid. In the occupied territories, the situation is far worse
than it was in South Africa, where the white nationalists needed
the black population: it was the countrys workforce, and as grotesque as the bantustans were, the nationalist government devoted
resources to sustaining and seeking international recognition for
them. In sharp contrast, Israel wants to rid itself of the Palestinian
burden. The road ahead is not toward South Africa, as commonly
alleged, but toward something much worse.
Where that road leads is unfolding before our eyes. As Sternhell observes, Israel will continue its current policies. It will maintain a vicious siege of Gaza, separating it from the West Bank,
as the United States and Israel have been doing ever since they

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accepted the Oslo Accords in 1993. Although Oslo declared Palestine to be a single territorial unit, in ofcial
Israeli parlance the West Bank and Gaza have become
two separate and different areas. As usual, there are security pretexts, which collapse quickly upon examination.
In the West Bank, Israel will continue to take whatever it nds valuableland, water, resourcesdispersing the limited Palestinian population while integrating
these acquisitions within a Greater Israel. This includes
the vastly expanded Jerusalem that Israel annexed in
violation of Security Council orders; everything on the
Israeli side of the illegal separation wall; corridors to
the east creating unviable Palestinian cantons; the Jordan Valley, where Palestinians are being systematically
expelled and Jewish settlements established; and huge
infrastructure projects linking all these acquisitions to
Israel proper.
The road ahead leads not to South Africa, but rather
to an increase in the proportion of Jews in the Greater
Israel that is being constructed. This is the realistic alternative to a two-state settlement. There is no reason
to expect Israel to accept a Palestinian population it does
not want.
John Kerry was bitterly condemned when he repeated
the lamentcommon inside Israelthat unless the Israelis accept some kind of two-state solution, their country will become an apartheid state, ruling over a territory
with an oppressed Palestinian majority and facing the
dreaded demographic problem: too many non-Jews in
a Jewish state. The proper criticism is that this common
belief is a mirage. As long as the United States supports
Israels expansionist policies, there is no reason to expect
them to cease. Tactics have to be designed accordingly.
However, there is one comparison to South Africa that
is realisticand signicant. In 1958, South Africas foreign minister informed the US ambassador that it didnt
much matter if South Africa became a pariah state. The
UN may harshly condemn South Africa, he said, but, as
the ambassador put it, what mattered perhaps more than
all other votes put together was that of [the] U.S. in view
of its predominant position of leadership in [the] Western
world. For forty years, ever since it chose expansion over
security, Israel has made essentially the same judgment.
For South Africa, the calculation was fairly successful

The Nation.

The road
ahead is not
toward South
Africa, as
commonly
alleged,
but toward
something
much worse.

BDS has been a


topic of vigorous
debate in the
Nation community.
For more on that
debate, and for a
range of responses
to this article in the
coming days, go to
TheNation.com/BDS.

Israels relentless
settlement expansion
continues with US
support, despite
some whispers of
disapproval.

July 21/28, 2014

for a long time. In 1970, casting its rst-ever veto of a


Security Council resolution, the United States joined
Britain to block action against the racist regime of Southern Rhodesia, a move that was repeated in 1973. Eventually, Washington became the UN veto champion by a
wide margin, primarily in defense of Israeli crimes. But
by the 1980s, South Africas strategy was losing its efcacy. In 1987, even Israelperhaps the only country then
violating the arms embargo against South Africaagreed
to reduce its ties to avoid endangering relations with the
U.S. Congress, the director general of the Israeli foreign
ministry reported. The concern was that Congress might
punish Israel for its violation of recent US law. In private,
Israeli ofcials assured their South African friends that
the new sanctions would be mere window dressing. A
few years later, South Africas last supporters in Washington joined the world consensus, and the apartheid regime
soon collapsed.
In South Africa, a compromise was reached that was
satisfactory to the countrys elites and to US business
interests: apartheid was ended, but the socioeconomic
regime remained. In effect, there would be some black
faces in the limousines, but privilege and prot would
not be much affected. In Palestine, there is no similar
compromise in prospect.
Another decisive factor in South Africa was Cuba.
As Piero Gleijeses has demonstrated in his masterful
scholarly work, Cuban internationalism, which has no
real analogue today, played a leading role in ending
apartheid and in the liberation of black Africa generally.
There was ample reason why Nelson Mandela visited
Havana soon after his release from prison, declaring:
We come here with a sense of the great debt that is
owed the people of Cuba. What other country can point
to a record of greater selessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?
He was quite correct. Cuban forces drove the South
African aggressors out of Angola; were a key factor in releasing Namibia from their brutal grip; and made it very
clear to the apartheid regime that its dream of imposing its rule over South Africa and the region was turning into a nightmare. In Mandelas words, Cuban forces
destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor, which he said was the turning point for the
liberation of our continentand of my peoplefrom
the scourge of apartheid.
Cuban soft power was no less effective, including 70,000 highly skilled aid workers and scholarships
in Cuba for thousands of Africans. In radical contrast,
Washington was not only the last holdout in protecting South Africa, but even continued afterward to support the murderous Angolan terrorist forces of Jonas
Savimbi, a monster whose lust for power had brought
appalling misery to his people, in the words of Marrack
Goulding, the British ambassador to Angolaa verdict
seconded by the CIA.
Palestinians can hope for no such savior. This is all
the more reason why those who are sincerely dedicated
to the Palestinian cause should avoid illusion and myth,
and think carefully about the tactics they choose and the

course they follow.

BERNAT ARMANGUE/AP

22

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