Like many others, i watched President Obama’s visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories with interest. No, i did not expect any miracles but i was more curious than anything else.
So the President told the Israelis that they need to treat the Palestinians like human beings. Certainly should the Israelis follow Obama’s advice that will be quite an advance over the current situation. But Obama keeps repeating the rhetoric of referring to Israel as a “Jewish state”, which is both offensive and problematic. What is he saying to the 20%+ of the population that are Palestinian citizens of Israel? Regardless of intent he is saying that they have no place in Israel. Let us be clear, we are not in 1947 when the Palestinian territory occupied by Britain was being divided–without the permission and involvement of the indigenous Palestinian people or neighboring Arab states– into “Jewish zones” and “Arab zones.” We are in 2013 where Israel captured most of the original “Arab zones” either in the 1948 war or in the 1967 war. We are dealing with an Israel that cannot be conceptualized as a “Jewish state” unless that means removing those who are not Jews or, in the alternative, subjecting them to a subordinate status…which is precisely what has transpired, i.e., the system of Israeli apartheid.
The President went to the Occupied Territories. While he indicated that the Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories were unfortunate and an obstacle, he stayed away from the internationally recognized notion that the settlements are illegal, i.e., in violation of international law. What was interesting was what came next: the President’s suggestion to the Palestinians that negotiations must continue while the Israelis continue their settlements.
While much of the Israeli population hates President Obama, largely because he is Black and he suggested that peace between Israel and the Palestinians needs to be based on the 1967 borders (note: which is what the United Nations has been saying!), his rhetoric has nothing to do with the actual actions of the USA. As Professor Rashid Khalidi has pointed out, there has been a consistent pattern of US administrations not only backing down in the face of Israeli obstructionism but more so, serving as Israel’s chief counsel. Needless to say, this makes it absolutely impossible for the USA to pose as the honest broker in resolving the decades long conflict.
It is in this context that the movement for Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) becomes so critical. No amount of appeals to either the President or Congress will alter their ideological and strategic commitment to support the expansion of the Israeli settler state. Due to international diplomatic considerations the USA will pay lip-service to the need for a just solution to the conflict, but the reality is that the sort of pressure that is needed on Israel will not happen until and unless (1)an organized constituency emerges in the USA that makes the demand for justice for the Palestinians a central piece of its platform, and (2)significant economic pressure is placed on all those institutions that choose to collaborate with the settler state in its suppression of the Palestinians.
Opinion in the USA is shifting against the Israeli settler state, a fact that fanatic anti-Palestinians forces find most disconcerting. This opinion must become more coherent and self-aware. Therein we find our challenge.