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19 December 2013

The BDS way

By: George S. Hishmeh
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Some Arab leaders apparently hope that President Barack Obama will emulate Peter O’Toole, who died this week, in his role as T.E. Lawrence, the daring British soldier in the epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” who successfully led an Arab rebellion against the Ottoman Turks in World War I.
But the American president is not interested in another military adventure, especially in the Middle East, as he showed when, recently, he abandoned the invasion of Bashar Assad’s Syria to oust him and put a stop to the bloody turmoil there that has cost the lives of thousands of Syrians and saw many more flee to neighbouring states in search of safety.
It is bewildering that these Arab leaders remain unable to bring about reasonable order that could pacify the situation internally or regionally, or to look for more effective and peaceful alternatives — a role that the Arab League should have pursued.
Impressive, lately, has been the effectiveness of some Palestinian groups in casting a spell on their Israeli opponents who refuse to meet them half way.
For example, recent successes in the campaign to boycott illegal Israel settlements have given fresh impetus, according to the AFP, “to calls for sanctions against Israel like those that brought down apartheid in South Africa“.
The French news agency continued: “Since the European Union said it would block grants and funding for any Israeli entity operating over the 1967 [armistice] lines, a growing number of international bodies have taken similar steps to cut ties, in a move that sparked alarm in Israel.”
There is no doubt that the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has lately been gaining ground.
The boycott debate has been further stoked by the death, earlier this month, of former South African president Nelson Mandela who is remembered for the international boycott that led to bringing down the minority white government in Pretoria.
Amira Haass of the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote last week that “at some point, the bubble of normality under [Israeli] occupation will burst — that’s a basic assumption that we hear all the time”.
Omar Barghouthi, a founding member of the BDS movement who lives in the West Bank, told the AFP that “a lesson we have learned from Mandela and our South African comrades and colleagues is that internal resistance must be coupled with sustained, effective international solidarity, particularly in the form of BDS, to isolate the oppressive state and compel it to respect its obligations under international law”.
Even US Vice President Joe Biden was quoted last week as saying that “the whole effort to delegitimise Israel is the most concentrated that I have seen in 40 years I have served. It is the most serious threat in my view to Israel’s long-term security and viability”.
Britain has recently toughened its stance on trading with Israeli settlements that were illegally established in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The five largest European Union states have reportedly told Israel that if it declares construction of new settlements after the scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners at the end of this month, and the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks collapse, Israel will be held responsible.
In the US, the American Studies Association, which has about 5,000 members, announced last Monday a boycott of Israeli academic institutions to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, signalling, according to a front-page news story in The New York Times, that “a [BDS] movement to isolate and pressure Israel that is gaining ground in Europe has begun to make strides in the United States”.
Members of the association voted by a ratio of more than two to one to endorse the boycott, a step the paper described as a “milestone” for the Palestinian BDS movement.
An organisation of Asian American Studies scholars endorsed a similar boycott last April.
In response to the “Days of Rage” over the expropriation of land and the forcible “cleansing” of tens of thousands of Arab bedouins from 35 “unrecognised” villages in the Naqab desert in southern Israel, known as the Prawer Plan, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew its bill from the Knesset.
The withdrawal of the Prawer Plan bill was seen by Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel, as “a major achievement”.
All this may complicate the upcoming visit to Israel by Secretary of State John Kerry, especially that he is said to have disappointingly endorsed the Israeli view that the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state despite the fact that a quarter of the population is Arab.
Kerry is reported to be working on a so-called framework accord that will focus on the main issues between the two parties, namely security, the future of Jerusalem and the fate of the Palestinian refugees, in order to serve as a broad outline for a final agreement.

* An Arab American columnist based in Washington. - Hishmehg@aol.com

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