On Sunday the Israeli government announced that the moratorium on new settlements in East Jerusalem would be lifted, and that 560 new settlements would be constructed. In an interview on Israel Radio, Meir Turgeman, the Chairman of Jerusalem city hall’s Planning and Building committee said that he had been advised to wait until Obama left office as US President: “I was told to wait until Trump takes office because he has no problem with building in Jerusalem”. This is an ominous look forward into what the future of the Israel-Palestine situation will be with Trump in the White House, and ordinary people need to act to mitigate the US’ approach to Israel.
Although under the purview of the Jerusalem city government, Benjamin Netanyahu’s press office released the following statement: “there is no longer a need to coordinate construction in the Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. We can build where we want and what we want”. This was followed on Tuesday by the unveiling of a plan to build 2,500 additional settlements in the West Bank. The Israeli Defense Ministry have said that these new settlements will be built on land that has already been annexed. Irrespective of your view on Israel-Palestine, this is unacceptable by all reasonable measures. Benjamin Netanyahu claims to support a two-state solution, yet is personally approving of building settlements in East Jerusalem. Let’s face facts: he’s a hypocritical liar.
The reason that this development is, as I alluded to earlier, because this gives us an indication of how the Israeli government appears to have been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump. The United States is already a huge backer of the Israeli state, and although Trump has stoked nationalist sentiment by talking about cutting foreign aid, this doesn’t apply to Israel. If anything Donald Trump’s ignorance about foreign policy makes it easier for him to be convinced of increasing aid to Israel. If the world’s only superpower lines up on the side of injustice, then we all need to act to change public opinion in our own societies.
The way to influence public opinion is through the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. By challenging Israel in the same way as Apartheid South Africa was, policy-makers will be forced to the negotiating table. The United States will not be on the correct side of this fight against injustice and so the rest of the world is going to have to step up. This is, however, something that needs to be said about the BDS movement.
Norman Finkelstein, an academic and famous critic of the State of Israel, has noted that the BDS movement has a problem in regards to its goal, particularly in relation to the state of Israel: “the problem is the goal… the official BDS movement, they claim to be agnostic, neutral- whatever term you want to use- on the question of Israel”. I happen to agree with Finkelstein. The tactics and cause of the BDS movement are right and just, but in order to gain public support the movement must tie up this loose end by changing what they are agnostic about. The BDS movement mustn’t be agnostic on the question of Israel’s existence, but on what the eventual peace deal will be.
The three plans that could be implemented- a one-state, two-state, or three-state solution- all include the existence of the Israeli state in one way or another. It would therefore seem strange to question the validity of the Israel as a political concept. When people criticised Apartheid South Africa, nobody was calling for South Africa as an entity to no longer exist, but for the policies of that state to be changed. The BDS movement should welcome different opinions on what the peace deal should look like, but again it shouldn’t disregard the existence of the State of Israel as a whole. Doing so would only alienate people who agree with the movement’s goal, and banishing Israelis from the land would be seen as remedying one immoral act with another. It’s incumbent on those of us who stand in solidarity with the Palestinians to sort out the ambiguities of the BDS movement so that the policies of the Israeli state can be changed.
The Israeli government’s announcement of new settlements is a fragrant violation of international law and anybody who argues in favour of this continued expansion is supporting such lawlessness. Peace in Israel-Palestine will only come about if each side respects the other. In no way can occupying territory, forcibly evicting populations, and repopulating it with settlers be regarded as respecting the Palestinian people.
Donald Trump’s election will undermine the progress of the international pro-Palestine movement, but although we must not be deterred, we must also get our own house in order. Israelis and Palestinians must be granted the same freedom to live and work where they please, and the BDS movement must also recognise this aspect of the dispute. Whatever the eventual peace agreement will look like, both sides should also be taken into account because otherwise there will never be peace.