Sanctions against the Israeli Occupation: It's Time

By Halper, Jeff | Tikkun, May/June 2005 | Go to article overview

Sanctions against the Israeli Occupation: It's Time


Halper, Jeff, Tikkun


If apartheid ended, so can the occupation. But the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction. -Bishop Desmond Tutu

I hesitate to get in the middle of a disagreement between Michael Lerner and himself, but his initial impulse to call for "limited, targeted divestment in firms that specifically work to support the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza," followed by his concern at having done so, embrace some fundamental issues of analysis and strategy that deserve to be aired as we all work together on being "smart," as he argues-and morally accountable. (And I, it should be said from the outset, agree with Lerner's impulsive side.)

The main issue from which a campaign for divestment might deflect us, says Lerner,

is how to build on the positive energy created by the election of Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas and his clear willingness to reject violence and rely on non-violence as he seeks a Palestinian state. While I believe that Ariel Sharon's Likud and Shimon Peres' Labor Party are unwilling to take the steps to make a real solution possible (namely, a return to the pre-67 borders of Israel, the Green Line, with minor border modifications along the lines specified in the Geneva Accord), I think it is politically smart to build on the optimism of the moment, put cynicism about Sharon's motives behind, and focus all attention on building public support for a settlement agreement that would give the Palestinian people a politically and economically viable Palestinian state.

This sounds reasonable. Yet it minimizes the issues to the point of willfully discounting the underlying source of the problem: Israel's explicit aim of displacing the Palestinians from the country-or imprisoning them in tiny cantons-as a necessary corollary to its exclusive claim to all the Land of Israel west of the Jordan River. How else can one reconcile the suggestion "to build on the positive energy created by the election of Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas" with the stated belief that "Ariel Sharon's Likud and Shimon Peres' Labor Party are unwilling to take the steps to make a real solution possible"? The tactic of playing dumb may be politically smart, but it removes from the equation the hard analysis and pressure that are crucial for truly ending the Occupation and achieving a just and sustainable resolution of the conflict.

The problem, in the end, is not tactical; it is substantial. While building public support for a viable Palestinian state is always helpful, nothing will move Israel (and its American guardian) without a massive element of pressure. Israel, after all, feels that it has won. After decades of systematic effort, the settlement blocs and other "facts on the ground" have reached a critical mass, making it impossible (in my view) to roll back the Occupation to a point where a viable Palestinian state is possible. Sharon succeeded in transforming Israel's control of the Palestinian areas from one of impermanent and contested Occupation to a permanent political fact when, in his meeting with Bush in April, 2004, the American administration formally recognized the settlement blocs (Israel's "major population centers") comprising East Jerusalem and some 30 percent of the West Bank-a fundamental policy change endorsed by the House 407 to 9 and the Senate by a vote of 95 to 3. And Abu Mazen is being set up for yet another "Generous Offer"-a non-viable Bantustan on Gaza and perhaps 60 to 80 percent of the West Bank. In this equation where a powerful state backed unconditionally by the world's greatest power is poised to prevail over an isolated and powerless people, any civil-society strategy that does not contain a central element of pressure is doomed, no matter how much positive energy and optimism is deployed.

A campaign of sanctions, divestment, and boycotts constitutes a major-and profoundly non-violent-form of pressure. …

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