In 2008, after weeks of negotiations, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the following to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a face-to-face meeting: 93.7% of the West Bank territory annexed by Jordan before 1967 plus 5.8% of adjacent Israeli territory in a land swap exchange for the 6.3% taken out of the West Bank for the consensus Israeli settlement blocs, in addition to a land corridor between the West Bank and Gaza territories; a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, with the holy sites of the city governed by a five-member coalition of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United States, the Palestinians, and the Israelis; and a symbolic return of 5,000 Palestinian refugees settled in Israel with the remaining refugees either returning to the West Bank or settled in their current country, as well as a large monetary compensation. Olmert was convinced that he and Abbas had finally reached a peace agreement. Abbas told his Israeli counterpart that he would give his answer the following day — he never did, and to this day Olmert says that he still never got an answer.
In 2014, the Obama administration worked for months with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to formulate a peace framework to present to Abbas and produced the following: dual recognition of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state; a Palestinian state equivalent in size to the land held by Egypt and Jordan before 1967, as well as a land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank; a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem; and special humanitarian cases for return of Palestinian refugees in Israel but otherwise no right of return. When Secretary of State John Kerry took this plan to Abbas, the PA President responded angrily at the weakness of the language on Jerusalem, but otherwise agreed in large part to the remainder of the document. Over the next month, Kerry and President Obama reworked the framework agreement to lean more towards the Palestinian needs. In March 2014, during an Abbas visit to the White House, Obama read to Abbas the reworded agreement, including stronger language on Jerusalem. Abbas didn’t accept this plan either, and never formally responded to it. It was his last invitation to the White House.
Twice in the last 10 years, the Palestinians have been offered peace plans by the U.S. and Israel that accepted most of their demands, and twice in the last ten years the Palestinians haven’t accepted. They didn’t even respond to continue negotiations. But these cases are just a sample of the last 80 years. The Palestinians have been similarly afforded the opportunity to create the first Palestinian state numerous times and the Palestinians have similarly rejected these offers, first in the 1937 Peel Commission, then the 1947 Partition Plan, again in 1967 after the Six Day War, then in 2000 at Camp David, and finally in 2008 and 2014 as outlined above.
And yet, somehow, after all that, for some, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) tactic appears to be the perfect and most logical step towards peace. The argument that BDS proponents make is that to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, economic pressure must be applied to Israel to force the Israelis to come to the negotiation table where the Palestinians are waiting, and make peace. But history has shown that it is Israel who has been ready and willing to make peace, and it has been the Palestinian leadership who has been ready and willing to reject it. To apply BDS only to Israel, placing the blame for lack of peace entirely on their shoulders, without applying any pressure on the Palestinians is to say that the Palestinians have been longing for peace while Israel has been doing everything it can to avoid it, which is unequivocally wrong and backwards. Further, it does not bring peace any closer; in fact, it does the exact opposite. It tells Israelis that no matter what they do or offer they will still be blamed for the lack of peace, so they might as well dig their heels in and not offer any more concessions because they gain no benefit from doing so, and it tells the Palestinians that they will never be blamed for the lack of peace so they have no incentive to negotiate or offer Israel anything. BDS does nothing more than push the prospects of peace further away. If one wants to have the argument that economic pressure should be applied to both the Israelis and the Palestinians to force them to the negotiating table, fine, that is a possible diplomatic option, but that option is not even being considered on the college campus or in the halls of the United Nations.
In short, the BDS tactic against Israel is an immoral negligence of history that falsely places all of the blame for a lack of peace between Israelis and Palestinians entirely on the former, allowing the Palestinians to walk away unscathed from their repeated rejections of Israeli peace offers. This only further bolsters Palestinian resistance to negotiate, all while making peace that much less attainable.
But then I was speaking with someone the other day about BDS, and they suggested that while BDS against Israel as a whole is clearly misguided and discriminatory, boycotting only Israeli settlements in the Israeli-controlled West Bank could be the right way forward. The argument gave me pause, and I thought to myself “Wait, what if this person is right?” Sanctions are an effective diplomatic tool, and if one disagrees with Israel’s policy in the West Bank, then certainly this approach is one that could yield results. And I can understand where the impetus for such an argument would come from, considering that Israeli settlements certainly are one of the issues withholding peace. But as I thought this in my head, I realized where the hole in this argument is, which is that it falls prey to the same flaw that “boycott all of Israel” supporters carry.
Boycotting only Israel without leveraging equal punishment against the Palestinians for their incitement of violence, terror attacks, and rejectionist mindset towards Israel and peace still lays the entirety of the blame for lack of peace on Israel without criticizing and recognizing Palestinian transgressions — even if that boycott of Israel is “only in the West Bank settlements” (which constitute 6.3% of the West Bank, with the actual buildings of the settlements covering less than 1% of that same land). BDS even against one singular Israeli street without applying similar pressures to the Palestinians still provides the same issue.
The problem with BDS isn’t necessarily what it is acting against (something which one may or may not agree with), but rather it is that BDS acts solely and exclusively against Israel and not at all against the Palestinians. BDS perpetuates the lie that Israel is solely or even primarily responsible for the lack of a Palestinian state, rather than repeated Palestinian rejection of peace. It is for this reason why BDS is immoral, wrong, misguided, and ahistorical. One can be very transparent and blunt about his or her view that the West Bank that Israel currently controls will be the territory of a future Palestinian state — a view that most share — without resorting to a boycott of Israel to do so. But more importantly, to boycott only Israel — no matter where in Israel that boycott is directed at — without equally boycotting the Palestinians is discriminatory and antithetical to peace.
It’s not pro-peace, it’s anti-Israel.