Last week the Israeli prime minister, with the help of Washington, made one of the strongest cases for the need for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in the wake of an Israeli court decision regarding an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. By demonstrating that twenty years of ‘peace process’ policies have yielded an Israeli government drunk on settlements, Netanyahu’s statement and the United States’ reaction should convince any remaining doubters that BDS is an urgently necessary alternative.
Netanyahu laid bare to the world precisely why negotiations with his government are a colossal and counterproductive waste of time and anyone—namely the United States government—supporting such a path might well be delusional:
The State of Israel is a law-abiding democracy and as the Prime Minister of Israel I am committed to upholding the law and am I committed to uphold the settlement enterprise, and I tell you that there is no contradiction between the two.
But Israeli colonies in the West Bank, their growth, and the growth of the infrastructure of apartheid around them are the main reasons why the Israeli occupation, now entering its 46th year, grows more entrenched by the day. Through this occupation, Israel controls the lives of millions of Palestinians who have no self-determination. Yet, despite this reality, the prime minister doesn’t see why colonialism and democracy do not mix
The U.S. State Department had the usual boilerplate language to offer in response. But the call for renewed negotiations has served largely as a cover for continued Israel settlements subsidized by American taxpayers. There is no actual pressure, whether through sanctions or aid linkage, to halt settlement expansion, despite readily using these tools to achieve other foreign policy objectives across the globe.
In Netanyahu’s statement he said that any efforts to combat the settlement enterprise will fail “because in practice, the exact opposite will occur. Instead of shrinking Beit El–Beit El has expanded. Instead of hurting settlement, settlement has been strengthened.” Indeed, the same day as his speech, the Israeli government announced 851 new settlement homes. Israel’s construction minister (read colonialism minister, MK Ariel Atias of Shas), who had previously called for segregating Israel’s Arab and Jewish populations, was pleased and noted that, "thirty apartments will be evacuated, but 850 will be built instead. Under the circumstances, this is a worthy solution.”
This can only be interpreted as the Netanyahu government’s adoption of the violent Israeli settler strategy known as ‘price tag.’ The difference is that ordinarily ‘price tag’ violence occurs as acts carried out by individual settlers or groups of settlers against Palestinians. But Netanyahu is adopting this tactic as an official government stance. The government’s ‘price tag’ won’t be arson attacks against Palestinian villages—although when this happens they will probably continue to look the other way. It will be instead be a government effort, backed by bulldozers, that carries on the appropriation of Palestinian territory.
Netanyahu’s price tag message is clear: if you push me to take down a few houses here, I will build a few hundred more next door! He went so far as to proclaim that, “There is no government that supports, or will support, settlement more than my government.” I agree with Netanyahu: his government is the most pro-settlement Israeli government in history—and his government also represents the vast majority of the Israeli Knesset, with 94 seats. If you subtract the few Arab members, Netanyahu’s self-proclaimed “most pro-settlement government ever” makes up 85 percent of all Zionist seats. He has effectively put himself at the center of an Israeli polity, which has shifted farther to the right than ever before; and all the while, the United States offers carte blanche support.
The U.S. government and Netayahu’s government share the fact that neither of them lives in the same realm of reality as the remainder of the world. Netanyahu is busy telling his people that democracy and colonialism are compatible and that settlements are legal while the entire world understands the settlements to violate international law. And the US calls for renewed negotiations.
How can either of these parties be taken seriously when it comes to achieving peace? They can’t be, and civil society is not going to wait around for Netanyahu’s government and Washington to open their eyes to what the rest of the world already sees so clearly.
It defies logic to expect Israel’s colonialist behavior to change without pressure and it is more evident than ever that the Israeli government is perfectly comfortable with colonialism and that Washington doesn’t have a problem with it either. Nonetheless, the pressure must come from somewhere.
This is why BDS is imperative and incumbent upon all those who, unlike the governments in Washington and Israel, want to see a change in the status quo. BDS is still in its early stages but momentum is undoubtedly growing behind the movement to isolate Israel internationally. Indeed, it took decades for the boycott movement against South Africa to truly bite. But event in its nascent state the BDS movement promises to put far more pressure on Israel than a complacent Washington that consistently forks money over to Israel and a ‘peace process’ that offers nothing but platitudes to a people fighting colonialism.
Yet, unbelievably, critics of BDS still argue for a return to negotiations. Netanyahu’s latest comments and the State Department’s non-reaction make it impossible to take such critics seriously.