Yalla Peace: The Peter (Beinart) principle

I totally support boycotting any products that originate from any of Israel’s settlements.

Ma'aleh Levona overlooks Luban in W. Bank 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ma'aleh Levona overlooks Luban in W. Bank 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
I totally support boycotting any products that originate from any of Israel’s settlements. That doesn’t make me anti-Jewish or anti- Israeli. It makes me pro-peace.
Until there is a two-state agreement, the settlements are an obstacle to peace as surely as is violence. Pro-Israel activists often argue that the settlements only make up about two percent of the land in the West Bank – not including the roads and areas needed to provide “security” buffers for the armed and right-wing residents of the settlements, which some estimate at 35%.
They argue that Palestinian demands that Israel impose a settlement expansion freeze is “unreasonable” because they are such a small part of the problem. It’s a double-edged argument, of course. Noting that they make up only 2% of the West Bank land, why should Israelis stand their ground on this issue if it is so insignificant? Well, the settlements are significant, no matter what the percent of land mass they encompass.
Israelis also often argue that this is not a conflict about “land,” but rather “the Arab refusal” to accept a Jewish state. Palestinians “recognition” of Israel in 1988 and became the basis for peace and the Palestinian move away from armed resistance. Peace collapsed and violence from both sides resumed in varying degrees.
The settlements and their role, however, is a core issue that prevents peace. Most Israelis, I believe, support the settlements. I don’t hear too many Israelis or American Jewish activists screaming about the need to dismantle the major settlements. There is the assumption that all of the major settlements will remain in any possible peace accord.
The real debate over settlements is in the Arab community, under the high-profile protests of Arab activists. It involves the issue of “BDS” – the common term now for “boycott, disinvest, sanction.” But boycott what?
Everything Israeli or just the settlements? Arab extremists who oppose Israel’s existence want to boycott everything Israeli. Moderate Arab voices argue for boycotting only the settlements. Boycotting everything Israeli does have the taint of anti-Semitism. Boycotting the settlements is political.
The pro-Israel community views it all as one, it seems. They don’t distinguish between boycotting Israel or boycotting only the settlements. That is until recently, when the high-profile pro- Israel voice of Peter Beinart called the settlements an obstacle to peace and said a boycott was appropriate.
Although his view represents the thinking of the Israeli peace movement, Beinart came under immediate assault from the pro-Israel activists. They were unrelenting in the Israeli and Western media. Beinart is a former editor at The New Republic, which is often described by editors as a “Zionist” publication. He’s spoken at AIPAC meetings twice. He was considered hard-core pro-Zionist.
But after leaving the New Republic, his views seemed to shift to the Left, quickly becoming a favorite of the Israeli and American Jewish peace movements like J-Street. The Arab press only publishes columns and views when they are anti-Israeli and rarely publish views critical of the Palestinians. So the Arab media jumped on the opportunity to point out the unreasoned Israel view against Beinart.
I wonder what really fuels the attacks against Beinart. Is it that he is arguing for a boycott of the settlements and their products? Or is the anger driven more by the fact that he is such a successful and high-profile Jewish writer and that he has embraced such a touchy issue critical of what I think is mainstream Israeli opinion.
Do Israelis enjoy the fight more than they enjoy negotiations for peace?
If Beinart were a Palestinian arguing that the settlements should be boycotted, much of Israel would have brushed him off as the usual anti-Semitic activism that pollutes the Palestinian cause. But Beinart is a Jew. And he made a great argument that to save Israel Israelis must boycott the settlements.
You can denounce him as an anti-Semite, as self-hating and even being anti-Israeli, but I would argue that Beinart’s careful parsing of this explosive issue is based on the solid moral principle that peace, not military superiority, is the true safeguard of both Israel and the Jewish people.
Over the centuries, Jews have been leaders of compassion, and champions of civil rights. I’d like to see more of that in this conflict.
The writer is a Palestinian American radio talk show host.