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Push to boycott Israel only prolongs the Palestinian conflict

Jul 21, 2021 | Jamie Hyams

Mansour Abbas, head of the Arab Israeli Islamist Ra'am party, a key component of Israel's new government (screenshot)
Mansour Abbas, head of the Arab Israeli Islamist Ra'am party, a key component of Israel's new government (screenshot)

Originally published in The Mercury – 21 July 2021

 

Any doubt about the baselessness of allegations that Israel is an apartheid country, as Greg Barns once again claims (“If Labor had gumption it would stand for Palestinian justice” July 19), should surely be dispelled by recent developments.

As has always been the case, all Israeli citizens have equal rights, regardless of ethnicity, origin or religion. Israel’s Arab community is well represented in the parliament, the army, the judiciary and all professions. Now, there’s an Arab party in Israel’s broad governing coalition, there are two Arab cabinet ministers as well as a deputy minister, and a member of the Arabic-speaking Druze community heads the country’s coronavirus response.

In the West Bank and Gaza, it’s less simple, but also clearly not Apartheid. While different laws govern Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank, that is a requirement of international law. Were Israel to apply its laws to Palestinians in the West Bank, that would amount to annexation. Instead, it applies the law in effect before 1967, when Israel took control there as an interim transitional measure pending negotiations after it was forced to fight for its survival in the Six-Day War.

In fact, all Palestinians in Gaza and the vast majority in the West Bank have their day-to-day lives governed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority respectively, under their own laws, in accordance with the 1994-5 Oslo Accords. Gaza has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt due to the frequent violence from the ruling terrorist group Hamas, but all necessary humanitarian goods, such as food, water, fuel and medicine, are allowed in.

Similarly, West Bank Palestinians do face restrictions on their movement into Israeli-controlled areas, but only to prevent terrorism like that of the Second Intifada, when suicide bombers infiltrating Israel from the West Bank killed more than 1,000 Israelis and maimed thousands more.

Palestinians could have been completely free from Israeli rule by now. Israel offered a Palestinian state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, including all of Gaza, almost the entire West Bank with land from within Israel in compensation for the remainder, a capital in east Jerusalem and compensation for refugees.

Sadly, the Palestinian Authority has not been prepared to reach the necessary compromise of accepting Israel’s right to exist in peace. It also continues to insist on the legally baseless “right of return” to Israel, not only of Palestinian refugees, but their millions of descendants, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish homeland.

Israel’s total withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, hoping the Palestinians would establish peaceful self-rule leading to further moves towards peace, has resulted in a terror enclave on Israel’s border, subjecting Israeli civilians to constant terrorism by rocket fire and arson attacks. This makes an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, adjacent to Israel’s population centres and industrial heartland, all the more problematic.

Meanwhile, US and Israeli efforts to negotiate peace since 2008 have met with Palestinian rejectionism and recalcitrance, and a complete refusal to talk at all since 2014.

The Palestinian leadership has instead settled on a strategy of demonising Israel internationally in the hope of isolating it. In this, they are aided by groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) which issued a report distorting international law to falsely accuse Israel of Apartheid, written by a veteran anti-Israel activist it had hired who had been making the same claims for years.  HRW has become so biased and extreme regarding Israel that its own founder wrote a newspaper opinion piece condemning it.

The  Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign doesn’t only target Israeli settlements, which in fact haven’t expanded geographically for 20 years and, as even the PA has admitted, cover less than two percent of the West Bank. It targets all Israeli companies, institutions and individuals, and its leaders have repeatedly made clear their overall aim is Israel’s destruction.

Such groups only prolong the conflict, because by convincing the PA that its demonisation strategy is working, they encourage Palestinian intransigence.

If Barns and others really want Palestinian justice, they should urge the Palestinian leadership to genuinely engage with Israel and work for a two-state peace that would benefit all Palestinians and Israelis.

Finally, contrary to Barns’ claims, no serious person or group says it is antisemitic to criticise Israel in the same way one would criticise any other country in the same circumstances. However, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, of which Australia and many other countries are members, has a working definition of antisemitism that makes clear that supposed “criticism” of Israel can sometimes cross over into antisemitism, especially when it aims to delegitimise Israel’s very existence. And when people obsessively and repeatedly use extreme terms to attack Israel while ignoring countries with genuinely bad human rights records, it inevitably does bring their motivations into question.

Jamie Hyams is a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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