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The BDS movement sends the Palestinian cause backwards

By Philip Mendes - posted Friday, 11 October 2013

The Palestinian Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel adopts an agnostic approach to the central question of support for a one state or two state solution to the Middle East conflict. The movement defends this ambiguity by arguing that its focus is on advancing Palestinian rights rather than a specific political formula, and on preserving the unity of all Palestinians whatever their opinions both within and outside Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Nevertheless, the official BDS statements released in July 2004 and July 2005 suggests a clear leaning towards the one state position. The statements refer to three campaign objectives: defending the alleged right of 1948 Palestinian refugees to return to former homes and properties inside Green Line Israel; demanding Israel grant national as well as civic equality to its Palestinian Arab citizens; and seeking an end to Israel's occupation of territories conquered in the 1967 Six Day War.

The first objective, which is prominently highlighted in the 2004 statement, is completely incompatible with a two state solution since it undermines the right of Israel as a sovereign state to determine its own immigration policies. Moreover, the sudden entrance into Israel of millions of hostile Palestinian refugees and their descendants would almost certainly result in the demographic if not violent destruction of the Jewish state.


The second objective is also incompatible with two states as it implies the transformation of Israel into a bi-national Jewish-Arab state, rather than a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian Arab state existing side by side as neighbours. The third objective may be compatible with two states, but only if it is the result of a negotiation process between Israel and the Palestinians based on mutual compromise and concessions which secures the security of the state of Israel as well as the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The fundamental problem with the BDS' political agnosticism is that it returns the Palestinian cause to the extremist positions of the 1960s and 70s. The first major Palestinian national covenant, adopted in 1964 and then amended in 1968, rejected any recognition of the national rights of Israeli Jews. The covenant urged the violent destruction of Israel, and the expulsion of all Jews from Palestine other than those who were living there prior to the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

However, in 1969, Fatah issued a call for a secular, democratic state of Palestine which seemed to imply a socialist bi-national Palestine in which Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs would live as equals. But the PLO quickly clarified that Palestine would be an exclusively Arab state in which the Jews (or some Jews) would enjoy cultural and religious freedom, but no national rights.

Nevertheless, the June 1974 conference of the Palestinian National Council voted in favour of a Palestinian state being created on any part of Palestinian land that was liberated. Some commentators interpreted this as coded support for a two-state solution, and indeed Palestinian moderates such as Said Hammami and Issam Sartawi (both later murdered by Palestinian extremists) commenced meetings with Israeli peace activists in an attempt to progress this objective. But conversely, other leading Palestinian officials publicly rejected any peace or negotiations with Israel. It would take until the late 1980s for the PLO to implicitly accept the possibility of a two-state solution that would encompass the national rights of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. And it was not until the 1993 signing of the Oslo Peace Accord that the PLO explicitly recognized Israel's right to exist.

The Oslo peace process sadly collapsed with the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada in September 2000, and the failure of the Camp David and associated negotiations in the second half of 2000 and early 2001. There is no doubt that the continuing Israeli West Bank settlement program contributed to this outcome. But equally, Palestinian demands for a coerced return of 1948 Palestinian refugees to Green Line Israel rather than to the Palestinian territories suggested that they had not come to terms with the basic parameters and limits of a two state solution.

The recent ambiguous BDS proposals suggest that the Palestinians have retreated back to their pre-1993 extremism. Demands for a one-state solution fail as did the earlier demands for a secular democratic state of Palestine to recognize the reality of Israel's existence, and the right of Israeli Jews to national self-determination. Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation requires a Palestine alongside Israel, not a Greater Palestine instead of Israel.

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Associate Professor Philip Mendes of Monash University is co-authoring a critique of the BDS movement to be published in late 2014.

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About the Author

Associate Professor Philip Mendes is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit in the Department of Social Work at Monash University and is the co-author with Nick Dyrenfurth of Boycotting Israel is Wrong (New South Press), and the author of a chapter on The Australian Greens and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the forthcoming Australia and Israel (Sussex Academic Press).

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