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Goodbye boycott: The cost of Kerry's 'breakthrough,' part 2

The tactic of punishing Israel for the occupation was finally beginning to take a psychological toll – then the U.S. secretary of state rode to the rescue.

The Palestinian Authority was planning to go to the UN in September, in line with the 20th anniversary of the failed Oslo Accords, and begin the process of taking Israel to The Hague over the occupation. Israel was scared, with good reason. But now that fear has lifted. Assuming that the preliminary Israeli-Palestinian talks in Washington lead to full-blown peace negotiations, which is a safe assumption – the Palestinians aren’t going to walk out on Kerry in the U.S. capital with everyone watching – the PA is committed not to go back to the UN or take any other  “unilateral actions” to further its goals. Instead, it has agreed to play ball with this Israeli government.

So maybe Netanyahu really is blessed. Just when the strategy of punishing Israel for the occupation had finally begun to gain traction, just when the Israeli establishment was genuinely alarmed that the boycott movement had been given a decisive push forward by Stephen Hawking and the EU, and when the PA looked like it would be going to the UN and afterward to The Hague with the wind at its back, Kerry comes along and pulls this country’s nuts out of the fire.

I wrote about the strategic damage done by the PA’s agreement to drop its precondition that Netanyahu recognize the 1967 border as the basis for negotiations.  Here are some thoughts on the tactical damage.

The only tactic that can convince Israelis to give up the occupation – psychological warfare, scaring them off the Palestinians’ back – was actually beginning to work, but now all the air has been taken out of it by these “peace talks.” Though I’m sure the boycott movement will continue, it will be relegated once again to the left-wing margins; it will not move into the mainstream like it did, for the first time, with Hawking and the European Union. Liberals overseas who hate the occupation, and who may have just begun thinking about putting their money where their mouths are, now see that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank – the PLO, Fatah, those guys with the keffiyehs – favor “engaging” with this Israeli government, not penalizing it. So who are anti-occupation liberals overseas to say different? They don’t need to be more Catholic than the Pope. No boycott for them, thank you.

“Mr. President, you should look happy,” Kerry told Abbas before announcing his breakthrough on Friday. I wonder why Abbas didn’t look happy. I wonder why no Palestinians are reportedly happy about it – but Netanyahu is. From today’s Haaretz:

“I pulled the Palestinians down from the tree of preconditions; I didn’t agree to a further freeze of building in the territories; I refused to release 120 prisoners before the talks began; and the 1967 borders aren’t mentioned,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted to his ministers on Saturday.

In terms of strategy, tactics or morale, anybody who thinks the cause of ending the occupation has nothing to lose by Kerry’s stunt should think again.

Barring a miracle, Kerry’s breakthrough is bad news
Endgame: Conditions for the success and failure of the peace process

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    1. Richard Witty

      I’m worried about this tack now Larry.

      Dangers abound certainly, dangers of acting before conditions are right, dangers of not acting until conditions are right.

      The reason I’m worried about this is illustrated by a near miss I recently experienced while driving.

      My wife is afraid of driving in general. About fifteen years ago, the car that she was driving (with my two then young sons) was totalled, in which the driver side back door was hit, after she had turned left and a car plowed into her at 25 mph, accelerating from a stop.

      Since then, she has been reluctant to turn left in traffic that is more than a single car coming.

      She gets nervous about it when I’m driving.

      A couple weeks ago, I took a left turn into a fairly heavily trafficked street. In the middle of the turn, my wife grabbed said “stop” and grabbed my arm.

      I stopped short thinking that I didn’t see something that she might have, maybe a child in the road.

      It wasn’t true. We didn’t get hit, but only because I noticed quickly and sped up to avoid a crash. I waited until we could stop safely and lectured:

      “Once we are moving, once the driver has decided, it is MORE dangerous to get the driver to stop than to finish what they started”.

      The biggest danger that I see is a fruitless effort. At some point, after a dozen attempts, people just give up. For all concerned everyone giving up is the worst outcome.

      The best that can occur is that once we are moving, however we got started moving, we go with it, help it along. Make it happen.

      You know that I am disappointed in the Israeli left, including the 972 columnists that commented that they had given up on electoral efforts, actually urged people to disenfranchise themselves by not voting and worse, not campaigning. When those that are intelligent, informed, persuasive, boycott fundamentally critical electoral process, they end up complicit in the falling apart.

      Maybe the liberal left masses, the Israeli majority that regards the settlement enterprise as detrimental, will speak up, and force a new election or unilateral change in policy.

      It won’t happen unless those that are politically functional enough to articulate an alternative do so and organize and campaign.

      It won’t happen so long as the left argues for boycott of their own political process.

      I support Kerry’s efforts. Not acting is not an option. The conditions won’t become right for a long time, and then they won’t be.

      Reply to Comment
      • carl

        Although Richard’s points are well taken (and interesting) I think that they miss Larry’s argument. Larry claims, and I agree with him, that the Palestinians were acting a lot and in the right direction. They were not just sitting and waiting.

        Reply to Comment
      • I think the Israeli governing coalition lives in the world of Greater Israel. Neither Abbas nor Kerry do. But Kerry lives in rational land of American power. Greater Israel, however, is about moving forward. Kerry might do well by recalling American Manifest Destiny. Abbas, who really has tried to be anti-violent (save in his own jails), is well aware of Greater Israel. So he can’t smile.

        Reply to Comment
    2. BOOZ

      Do not count me in Larry.

      Neither should you count in most of the European liberal Jews who have not parted from their communities.

      The reason is that I hate the boycotters as much as I hate occupation and I do not want to play into the hands of Omar Barghouti, Ali Abunimah and their likes-and on the French scene, which I know best, alongside scumbags such as Dieudonné, Soral and their ilk.
      Were it for a settlement-only boycott, I might think about it.

      Under the present conditions…no way.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Laurent Szyster

      Kerry did not rescue Israel from the looming threat of an European boycott.

      Instead, a non-binding wag-of-the-finger told Abbas exactly how much support he could expect from Europe: close to none.

      With almost everybody having lost patience or interest with Palestinian, a window of opportunity for peace opens.

      Sure it won’t be that “equitable peace” you fantasize.

      And, yes, Bibi will get all the credit for an historical achievement.

      Of course some quarters will reject it and make all they can to derail what they consider blasphemy.

      And some, the most despicable lot, will oppose it just because it proved them as wrong as dumb.

      Reply to Comment
    4. I can, Larry, see Kerry listen to you and then say “and after the PA does these things, and nothing changes, what will happen on the ground? Violence. We must try now.” I have no optimism for the talks at all, especially given Bibi’s reported quote, above. As I keep saying, I see only Greater Israel with unrest, hopefully mostly civil. I do hope I am wrong about the talks. I want to be wrong about more direct, erupted violence.

      Reply to Comment