Far from charting a path toward peace for Israelis and Palestinians, journalist Peter Beinart’s advice, “boycott the settlements to save Israel,” would make peace far less likely.
This plan assumes that Jewish settlement on the West Bank is holding up a deal for a two-state solution. Therefore, his logic goes, branding the settlements as “nondemocratic Israel” and declaring economic war on their residents will induce an Israeli pullback and the emergence of a Palestinian state at peace with its Jewish neighbor.
Yes, Jewish settlements create difficulties for Palestinians — waiting at checkpoints is no pleasure — and in the eventual creation of a geographically viable Palestinian state. That is why a succession of Israeli governments, including the present one, has endorsed Palestinian statehood and acknowledged that many settlements will have to go. The American Jewish Committee and mainstream American Jewry also endorses this. But that can only happen through bilateral negotiations. For that Israel requires a partner.
Time after time, Israel has made generous territorial offers only to be rebuffed. Settlements do not obstruct peace talks; the Palestinians’ refusal to engage in such talks makes Israeli
governments reluctant to risk political capital to take on extremist settlers in the absence of a foreseeable peace payoff.
Sadly, Hamas, which controls Gaza, still says it wants to destroy the Jewish state and allows an unending barrage of missiles to be launched from its territory onto Israeli civilians. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denies historical Jewish ties to Jerusalem and prefers to seek statehood through the United Nations rather than talks with Israel as anti-Israel propaganda continues to be taught in Palestinian schools and conveyed in their mosques.
Meanwhile, Beinart makes but minimalist demands of the Palestinians to address any of this. Is it not shocking intellectual condescension to expect so little of a people that aspire to join the family of nations?
A boycott of the settlements cannot, as Beinart believes, be confined to the West Bank. Inevitably it will tar all of Israel as beyond the pale, a pariah state, the equivalent of old apartheid South Africa. In fact the very term “nondemocratic Israel” undercuts a major pillar of U.S.-Israel relations — the affinity of fellow democracies for each other.
Finally, by painting the settlers as martyrs, a boycott would embolden them to dig in and might increase sympathy for them within Israel. Beinart thinks there are only two possible paths — continued occupation, or American and American Jewish pressure to end it.
AJC endorses a third path — taking down illegal settlements, rejecting religious extremism, reaching final agreement with the Palestinians, inc-orporating into Israel those large
settlement blocs that will be part of Israel and dismantling those that fall outside the Jewish state.
But this is predicated on an end to terrorist activities within and outside the Green Line, and explicit Palestinian recognition — in Arabic and in Ramallah — of Israel’s right to exist.
In the final analysis, there are no simple and neat solutions to the world’s longest-running conflict.
Steven Bayme is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations.