Monday, February 10, 2014

Boycotts and Sanctions Towards Peace

US Secretary John Kerry is close to releasing a “framework agreement” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though it is only a “framework,” a beginning of a tedious road ahead, it will probably be the best US contribution to date to a conflict that has plagued a region for way too long and has caused only harm, death, destruction and anxiety to far too many. Particularly to generations of Palestinians living state-less and status-less, most of them in refugee camps across the Middle East, while their fate is decided.

Some of the known details of this framework signal a shifting of positions on several issues and a clear distancing from the powerful Israel lobby AIPAC (The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) that has been historically successful at dictating U.S. Middle East policy. Under the Obama administration, AIPAC was faced with a more pragmatic approach to the Middle East, one that acknowledges others’ differences and puts more weight on diplomacy and communication rather than military force and bullying.

The lobby that once muted whom it wanted when it wanted under the allegation of “anti-Semitism” is for once not in the driver’s seat. Not only because it proved to be dead wrong on many occasions, but mainly because it was leading both the US and Israel down destructive paths the two nations cannot afford.

While most of Kerry’s diplomacy has been taking place under the radar, in recent weeks he demonstrated US tough love for Israel through warnings -- public and private -- that global sanctions are growing in size and momentum and soon they won’t be contained.

Indeed for the past few years, directed campaigns to boycott, divest and sanction Israel (BDS) have been spreading steadily worldwide. In Europe, they have forced major economic sanctions or threats of sanctions at the highest EU levels. They finally made a major impact in the US when members of the American Studies Association voted to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The BDS campaigns are powerful because of the diversity of their members, their intellectual non-violent approach and their focus.

Could these clear messages the US is sending Israel about peace or the consequences of not going in that direction with the Palestinians bear fruit? Barring an assassination or major disaster that will deflect the attention and buy extremists on all sides enough time to derail the effort, the Kerry-Obama plan might actually lead somewhere.


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