Monday, December 10, 2012

Wishing for peace in the Middle East

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel may not bring peace, but so far, nothing else is either

"Alanis Morissette, the Canadian American pop singer, is an unlikely ambassador to the Middle East, but in some ways, she is a good one," wrote Washington Post religion columnist Lisa Miller in her column, "Morissette did more good by not boycotting Israel," last Saturday (Dec. 8). This is so, Miller said, because "perhaps Morissette is a foreign policy savant and understands, as the British peace activist Hannah Weisfield explained in Haaretz in March, that a broad boycott of Israel conflates too much: its politicians with its people; its current policies with its legitimate history; its business in the occupied territories with those inside its 1949 borders."

So we are to understand that the only boycotts people like Morissette should honor are the ones that don't conflate people and their politicians, that focus exclusively on Israel's current policies and not the unfortunate circumstances of its unilateral creation on Palestinian territory, that focus on the occupied territories and not the longing of Palestinians for the parts of their homeland they likely will never retrieve. This matters especially, Miller wrote in her column, because the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement doesn't have any real plan to achieve a negotiated settlement between Palestinians and Israelis.

But if having a negotiated plan for peace between Israel and Palestinian was actually a precondition for action in this case, then Israelis ought to be barred from any action aimed at maintaining the Occupation or from establishing any more settlements on Palestinian territory. Likewise, Palestinians would be barred from launching rockets or suicide attacks. Miller, no doubt, is shocked that neither side is showing the kind of restraint she appears to prefer.

Oddly, Morissette,, the "foreign policy savant," apparently has no plan, either. Otherwise, why would Miller suggest that "Morissette might have served the cause of peace...better by clearly articulating her reasons for going to Israel." Since Morissette did not do so, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that Miller isn't really writing about the pop singer, at all, but is taking the opportunity to applaud her for not cooperating with the BDS movement. Miller very likely has no plans for peace, either, beyond a kind of Rodney King, can't-we-all-just-get-along plea.

Indeed, BDS, conceived on the model of the boycott of South African goods in the 1980s, which certainly helped in isolating South Africa and speeding the fall of apartheid in that country, may not be the key to building an enduring peace between Palestine and Israel. But it is an acknowledgement of the suffering of Palestinians since the Jewish state was created on Palestinian territory and of the fact that more than half a century later, Palestinians continue to suffer from the persistent application of Israeli power in the portion of Palestine that theoretically still belongs to them. The BDS initiative also reflects the opinion of many people that however much Jews might have suffered during the Holocaust, that experience did not confer on them the right to take land occupied by another people.

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