I write in response to a letter from Conrad Nadell (“BDS, obstacle to peace,” Aug. 13). I write as a strong supporter of the aspirations expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and as an opponent of the organized BDS movement, but also as an opponent of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and rigid control of Gaza.
Mr. Nadell is quite correct that a number of the founding leaders of the BDS movement, including Omar Barghouti, as well as many followers, are no friends of an independent Jewish State of Israel. They are not fit bedfellows for young Jews seeking a just resolution in the form of two states, Israel and Palestine.
However, the vast majority of international law scholars reject his contention that the territories are “disputed” rather than “occupied.” The very few scholars that can be cited in the other direction focus
solely on actions of 90-100 years ago among the colonial powers, ignoring almost completely the vast changes that have come, in part through the United Nations, in the post-colonial period. Whatever one might think was the case in 1917, or in 1923-4, there is today a Palestinian people, and a strong presumption that they, like the Jewish people, are entitled to a nation-state in their historic homeland. Given Israel’s legitimate security concerns and the history of hostility between the two peoples over the past century, some compromises will be required to allow two states to live as neighbors, in peace.
How are we to get from here to there? Recent historical study has vastly complicated the traditional Zionist narrative that the Israelis have always sought a just peace and the Palestinians (and other Arabs) have consistently refused. While there is much to criticize in any number of decisions by Palestinian and other Arab leaders, the historical reality is just not that simple or onesided. Each side has legitimate claims against the other. Both sides have in some sense conspired to defeat a peaceful compromise resolution.
The “two-state solution” has been lying near death for some time, with the current Israeli government feeling little inclination to save it. Rather, the current Israeli coalition is increasingly determined to annex more of the West Bank, whether de jure or de facto. For both Jews and others, seeking a just peace allowing for national self-determination for both peoples, there is a need for some mechanism to encourage both parties to come to terms. A number of activist Jews have concluded that non-violent economic sanctions against the Jewish settlers occupying the West Bank and actively resisting a peaceful settlement is the best means available. Their objective is a form of “kosher” boycott of products supporting the settlement enterprise, without allying themselves with the BDS movement.
I have my own doubts about the likely effectiveness of protests targeting only the settlements, but I can appreciate the moral force of this position and its appeal to idealistic Jewish youth, particularly
on campus. I fear that a hysterical response to their activities, because they have some parallels with the BDS movement, will be immensely counterproductive to the Jewish and pro-Israel causes. It is critical to maintain a conceptual and policy distinction between activities in Israel within its 1967 Green Line boundaries, and activities by settlers in most of the territories occupied in 1967. I strongly oppose efforts in Congress and in the states to insulate activities within the territories from legitimate criticism and political demonstrations, including non-violent economic actions directed against the settlement enterprise in the West Bank.
Alan Jay Weisbard