News & Analysis
It wasn’t exactly poetry, but Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress this week might go down in history as a real turning point in the last 20 plus years of US-orchestrated negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. (1)
For the first time— and despite later efforts to backtrack— a U.S. Secretary of State admitted it was the Israelis who are derailing talks.
Kerry couldn’t have been more clear about the recent sequence of events that have driven these talks to the brink.
First Israel refused to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners they had promised to free, then they announced construction of 700 new settlement units, and only then did the Palestinians announce that they would attempt to join 15 international human rights conventions.
The US and Israel still vigorously criticized that move, which begs the question: what kind of “peace process” considers signing on to covenants promoting the rights of children, the disabled, and others a threat to peace? (2)
Of course, unilateral Israeli actions to undermine peace go back much further.
Since the Oslo Accords, the number of Jewish settlers on Palestinian land has more than doubled - to more than 650,000. (3) In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu campaigned for re-election on a promise of one million Jews living in “Judea and Samaria”. (4)
Rather than hold Israel accountable, the United States has repeatedly rewarded the Israeli government whenever it violated the law or agreements, now fueling the occupation with $3.2 billion in annual military aid.
The United States is indeed acting like a broker in these talks — representing Israel.
The losers in this peace scam? The Palestinians most of all, but also every Israeli who wants a lasting and just peace. And every US resident who wants our tax money to be used for freedom and democracy, not occupation and apartheid.
In truth, the terms Kerry and Israel set forth have nothing to do with equality – they’ll require Palestinians to sit at the back of the bus.
But they give us an idea of what will be on the table should talks, which have proven to be an effective delaying tactic while Israel builds "fact on the ground", limp along.
They include an unprecedented demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That’s code for condemning Israel’s 25% of citizens who aren't Jewish to second and third class status, and denying the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees. (5)
And the land being negotiated for a future Palestinian “state”?
It looks more like the holes in a piece of Swiss cheese, thanks to decades of US-enabled settlement expansion. Put another way, whatever the rhetoric of a “two-state solution,” Israeli policies have already created a de-facto single state including all of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, albeit one built on the premise of separate and unequal lives for Jews and non-Jews. This is the very definition of apartheid.
So what next?
At Jewish Voice for Peace, we believe that the struggle for freedom and self-determination will end, like similar struggles in Northern Ireland and South Africa, at the negotiation table. But that will only happen when all parties can sit down together with equal power.
Israel has one of the strongest militaries in the world, the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, and the unconditional backing of the world's sole super power. It is the 24th wealthiest country in the world. Meanwhile, the Palestinians across the table remain stateless, impoverished, occupied, or second-class citizens inside of Israel.
But the balance of power is changing.
And the engine of that change is the unstoppable movement of nonviolent resistance by Palestinians and their allies – including Jews of conscience - around the globe. Education, lobbying, the involvement of international legal bodies, demonstrations in the streets in Israel and Palestine, have all made a difference and will continue to grow.
And where our governments have thus far failed us, more and more people everywhere have begun to stand up and use nonviolent, economic power to build pressure on Israel to do the right thing.
The successes of the Palestinian-led nonviolent movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) are growing, with billions of dollars and major multinational corporations already impacted. That pressure has already been felt at this round of talks. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned BDS 26 times in his speech to AIPAC, the largest U.S. pro-Israel lobbying organization.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is the Palestinians' Montgomery Bus Boycott.
This movement for us as Jews is a form of tochecha, the Jewish tradition of sacred rebuke, which comes from a place of love and is the religious obligation to remind one’s friends to live by their values. It is also a nonviolent and principled way to liberate our own community from the dehumanizing role of oppressor.
Can BDS really work? We think so.
Israeli government officials agree. Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid warned that even a limited EU boycott could cost the Israeli economy over $5 billion dollars a year.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni put it even more directly: “The boycott is moving and advancing uniformly and exponentially...Those who don't want to see it, will end up feeling it."
Already impacted, even Israel’s business elites are organizing to demand a negotiated agreement.
Certainly, BDS is working better than any strategy has before. It’s a movement rooted in Palestinian civil society – women’s groups, trade unions, students – and so it has no leader that can be stopped. No single funder that can be cut off.
It is fueled instead by the same love for justice, equality, and human rights that has fueled every successful justice movement the world has ever seen. Grounded in international law, it asks for an end to occupation, equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a just resoution for millions of refugees.
But why BDS to get to the negotiating table?
Martin Luther King famously wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:
“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
That is precisely what we are doing.
And we ask you to continue to join us in this historic movement. So that all who live in Israel and Palestine, in whatever configuration both peoples choose, can live as equals, with the same opportunities to raise families safely, go to school, and build a future.
Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, we have turned a corner, and there’s no going back.