If Israel faces additional boycotts in the aftermath of a failure of John Kerry’s attempts to negotiate a peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, three questions arise: First, what will be boycotted? Second, what is the ideology behind the boycott? Third, who will be responsible?
What will be boycotted? Israeli products produced on the West Bank. How are these products produced?
Item: Rami Levy, the head of the budget supermarket chain that bears his name, operates three locations in the West Bank. The Levy chain employees about 2,000 Palestinians.
Item: Lipski, a plastics company in the northern West Bank Barkan industrial park, employs more than 45 Palestinians out of a total work force of 90.
Item: SodaStream’s factory in Ma’ale Adumim employs 1,300 people. Five hundred are Palestinians.
Translation: A boycott of “Israel goods made on the West Bank” is a boycott, in significant part, of “Palestinian goods made on the West Bank.”
Bottom line: A boycott of Israeli goods produced on the West Bank will harm a substantial number of Palestinians.
But wait? What right do Israelis have to establish a factory on the West Bank?
Behind that question-objection is antiquated business practice and racism to boot. Do American companies not have a right to establish factories in Europe? Do companies of any country not have a right to establish factories anywhere else? The only parties who answer no to this last question are totalitarian societies such as North Korea.
Worse, the idea that a Palestinian society, or autonomous territory, or state, is only allowed to have Palestinian-owned and Palestinian employees is racist. Call a spade a spade. The ultimate goal of the “boycott Israel” ideology is the total segregation of Israeli and Palestinian societies. The ultimate means toward this racist end is the denial of thousands of Palestinians employment without asking whether this is what they prefer.
We shall give Secretary of State Kerry the benefit of the doubt that he harbored no ill intent when he cautioned that if his efforts at peace between Israel and the Palestinians fail, then Israel will be inundated with additional boycotts. We shall accept his view that he was uttering a prediction, not a threat.
Even so, his words were so ill conceived, so counterproductive to his own efforts, so obtuse to Israel’s situation, that his intent is irrelevant. The key is that his words were extremely damaging to Israel — serving as the proverbial self-fulfilling prophecy — and, still worse. His words showed that he has not thought through his entire peacemaking enterprise.
In this, we grant, he is but the latest in a long time of naifs who have made many culture-bound assumptions: 1. any geopolitical problem can be solved diplomatically; 2. any well-meaning American can be the instrument of the solution; 3. any peacemaking effort is worth undertaking even if it does not have a great chance of success.
First, not every geopolitical problem can be solved diplomatically. Sometimes war is necessary (e.g., the Nazi problem); sometimes surrender is necessary (e.g., Gorbachev’s unilateral dissolution of the USSR); sometimes nothing helps (e.g., North Korea thus far).
Second, mere American pragmatism and good will, set against a conflict more complex than Americans perceive or have recent experience with, does not succeed. To take only the latest example: the failure of the man who brought peace to Ireland, George Mitchell, the Obama administration's first point-man on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Third — and most important — Kerry’s statement on boycotts demonstrates that he has not weighed the prospects of success as over against the price of failure. If he truly believes that a failure in Israel-Palestinian negotiations will inevitably entail a cascade of boycotts against Israel, he should have either not have undertaken the negotiations to begin with, or conducted them very differently.
It is Kerry himself who will be the catalyst of boycotts against Israel, however well-meaning his recent statements on boycotts may have been.
It is Kerry who will be able to retire safely and comfortably from the Middle East if his talks fail — leaving the Israelis to pick up the pieces.
Kerry is one more piece of evidence that, in foreign policy, the US is not thinking like a leader. Leaders exercise far more care in their goals, techniques and language.
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