Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ziad J. Asali Threatens Israel With BDS (Again)

Everyone benefits from the threat of BDS against Israel. The Palestinians benefit because they think they are about to destroy Israel, the Israeli right benefits because they can sell the "whole world is against them" thing, and the Israeli left benefits because they can use BDS as a threat to force Israel into making peace. That last argument is on display with an article by Ziad J. Asali of the American Task Force on Palestine. He doesn't support BDS per se but does believe that Israel had better get to work on peace or else. His argument relies on the most common pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel argument, the settlements:
"There is an international consensus that Israel's continued settlement activity is illegitimate and a major obstacle to peace, and much of the world may be running out of patience. In particular, Europe is beginning to take action on the settlement issue by withholding economic cooperation."
Unfortunately, there is also an international consensus that the vast majority of settlements aren't going anywhere, as Norman Finkelstein pointed out just the other day. And I'm also not sure why Israel should be so concerned about European boycotts of the settlements. Sure, it's not an encouraging sign, but that doesn't mean the sky is falling either. If some settlement factories are forced to relocate, how is that worth putting millions of Israeli lives at risk?

Asali points to a couple of European scientific agreements with Israel that mandated that the funds used can't be used in settlements. Of course in one case Israel was able to get them to change their minds, and the world is bigger than Europe, but okay we'll give it to him. However, he then takes a step beyond the agreements themselves and starts putting it his own spin:
"This language is instructive because it bases its objections squarely on international law, rather than any other foundation. Israel's settlement activities are strictly prohibited by Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, paragraph 6. This has been understood by both Israel and the international community since settlement activity began."
The European statements do not say they are doing this because of "international law." Asali just made that up out of whole cloth. The Europeans could have mandated it just as easily because they believe that all of the West Bank should go to the Palestinians. Yes, there's a difference there. As I said before, Israel rejects the Fourth Geneva Convention claim and now so do others. Although Asali could be correct, there's no evidence to suggest that he is. I also feel like if the Europeans were really motivated by international law they would demand a boycott of the Palestinians because of the many war crimes they commit.

Anyway, Asali then takes on the strawman argument that boycotts of the settlements "delegtimizes" Israel. Maybe some pro-Israel people say that, but if so I have never seen it. His counter argument, though, is informative:
"First, boycotts that focus on the territories occupied in 1967 actually reinforce the legitimacy of Israel in its internationally recognized boundaries, although they do reject the settlement of occupied territories. So, unless one conflates the occupation with Israel itself, boycotting settlements does not in any meaningful sense challenge the legitimacy of Israel...."
Leaving aside the very obvious question of how focusing on the territories reinforces the legitimacy of Israel, for a guy who claims to represent the Palestinians Asali doesn't appear to know what the Palestinians. The vast majority of Palestinians, especially their so-called "supporters" living abroad, do conflate the occupation with Israel itself. When they say "Free Palestine" they don't mean free the West Bank and Gaza. Even if you can't be bothered to take a look around at what Palestinians actually want, Asali, doesn't mean that Israel is required to be just as blind. But let's take a look at the second counter argument:
"Second, and even more significantly, what is being missed by many Israelis is that it is not the boycotts of settlement activity that delegitimize Israel, even in the eyes of some of its closest international allies, but it is the settlements themselves."
Another extremely common argument made by Israel haters and their cheerleaders (sorry Asali) which demonstrates prejudice against Israel. No other country can be "delegitimized" because they do something that is unpopular, no matter how illegal it is. It doesn't even enter the discussion. America wasn't delegtimized by the invasion of Iraq, Turkey wasn't delegitimized by its oppression of Kurds, heck not even Syria itself is being delegitimized for the mass slaughtering of people that is taking place there. Only when it comes to the Jewish state does the threat appear: it had better shape up or it won't exist any more. This is coming from a guy who claims to want peace? Heck of a way to get there.

Neither of his paragraphs actually address the real problem with the settlement boycott, which is that endorsing it means it's okay to single Israel and Israelis out of punishment while far more oppressive states are ignored. I see no reason to go through the list of oppressive countries that are being ignored by Europe yet again, while they still trade with them without hindrance. But as we saw in the last paragraph, Asali admits that he thinks holding Israel to a double standard is totally fine.

This is getting a bit long so let me skip down to Asali's conclusion:
"Israelis should listen to the consensus of former security chiefs who unanimously emphasize the urgent need for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. And they should also heed the group of 100 leading Israeli business leaders who went to this year's Davos conference with a platform stating bluntly that Israel's economic future also depends on peace with the Palestinians."

I think that Israelis know that they need peace. Their leaders, I'm not sure. But although this is all well and good, the Palestinians still don't want peace. So there's only so much Israel can do without a partner on the other side. But I can't say that I blame Asali for not wanting to have that conversation. It's hard to defend people who scream to the rooftops that they don't want peace, the way the Palestinians do. Even if it's your job.

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