The pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is a prominent element of the progressivism of our time.
BDS is a movement that seeks to pressure Israel through non-violent, economic means for three stated goals: dismantle Israel’s barrier in the West Bank and regain lands taken in the Six-Day War of 1967, force Israel to acknowledge the equal rights of “Arab-Palestinian citizens,” and promote a Palestinian “right of return” as outlined in United Nations Resolution 194, adopted just after the formation of Israel in 1948.
The BDS movement, though admirable for its peacefulness, is inherently flawed. Its underlying assumptions about the core qualities of the Israeli state are that it is a state built on lands stolen from Palestinians, and that there cannot be a fundamentally Jewish state. These core assumptions are the cause of the conflict and the BDS movement’s misunderstandings of Israel. Broadly speaking, the supporters of this movement are either misguided in their understanding of the particular socio-political issues between Israel and Palestine or fundamentally opposed to the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
Consider the second stated goal of BDS: “Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.” While equality is a noble goal, it is not clear what sort of equality they desire. If it is full participation of current Palestinians in the political process of the state of Israel, then that would mean a destruction of the current order of Israel as a Jewish state. If they desire equality in self-rule, they already have that to a great extent through the Palestinian Authority, the party in power in the West Bank.
They are not represented in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but that can only be solved by negotiating peace and compromise with Israel. The Palestinian Authority has made it clear that they will not reach peace through any sort of compromise of land. Hamas, the terrorist party in power in the Gaza Strip, has indicated that they will not reach peace with Israel under any conditions.
Those who back BDS have a fundamental misunderstanding of both how to properly enact political change and of the unique complexities of the Israel-Palestine situation. This is demonstrated by their third stated goal, that of adhering to U.N. Resolution 194. Complying with international agreements seems like a good way to achieve peace on its face, but the resolution was passed in 1948 while Israel was still battling for its independence. At the time of the resolution, all Arab states rejected the plan and Israel was unrepresented in the United Nations.
But 68 years and several wars and intifadas later, Israel’s territories have expanded through lands taken in wartime from their aggressors. Relations with Palestinians have also worsened over the last two decades. To ask Israel to abide by a 68-year-old plan dictated by an international body in which they had no representation, and which all Arab countries rejected, is unrealistic and unfair.
Finally, the BDS movement whitewashes the reasons behind Israel’s settlement of lands in the West Bank and the Golan Heights and military measures against both the West Bank and Gaza. The BDS movement asserts that settlement constitutes a violation of human rights and goes directly against international law, but it ignores the fact that these lands were seized from military aggressors.
The Israeli government has a policy of “land for peace” that began due to suggestions in UN Resolution 242 in the aftermath of the Six-Day war and has dictated decades of Israeli peace negotiations and security policy since. This policy played out in Israel’s negotiation for peace with Egypt in 1979. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula in return for a lasting peace with Egypt and the agreement has proved successful in years since. This doctrine also prompted the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, but since the withdrawal was not accompanied by any form of peace agreement, the conflict with Gaza has escalated.
Since the land given to Gaza has not resulted in peace, Israel’s current position is to stay in the West Bank until there is a multilateral peace agreement. This means that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank must be willing to negotiate and compromise if they want sole control in the West Bank, since Israel will not give up land again without a promise of peace, even under economic pressure. Until then, settlements will stand, Israel will be under threat from all sides, and the BDS movement may continue spouting its simplistic narrative of oppression and calling for Israel to give up its land, without properly understanding a complex, mercurial region of history and deeply rooted conflict.