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BDS is not the only tactic against Israeli occupation, but it is working

Sustained international pressure on Israel is working and must be expanded in the coming year

This week, the BDS National Committee (BNC) published a round-up of campaigning for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel during 2016, including a summary of "the most significant indicators of direct and indirect BDS impact in various fields". Introducing the timeline, the BNC noted how progress over the past year has occurred in the face of intensified Israeli state efforts to undermine, attack and sabotage the BDS movement.

No matter how extreme the rhetoric gets, or how shameless the smears become, the case for BDS remains as straightforward and compelling as it always has been

Despite this, the BNC points out, campaigners have seen successes in activism targeting major multinationals, churches, city councils and student groups, as well as securing the support of the European Union and national governments for the right to boycott (despite Israeli efforts to equate such campaigning with illegitimate hate speech).

Highlighting the decision by the UN Human Rights Council to establish a database of companies "complicit in and profiting from Israel's occupation regime," the BNC notes that "the logic of appeasing Israel’s regime of oppression has started giving way to the logic of sustained international pressure, which proved instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa".

This is the key to the argument for BDS – the logic of pressure replacing the logic of appeasement. But Israel and its friends are as determined as ever to prevent the application of any sort of pressure whatsoever, as we also saw this past week.

Tom Watson’s 'moral' stance

Take Tom Watson, deputy leader of Britain's Labour Party, who used a speech at the Westminster-based lobby group Labour Friends of Israel to describe the fight against BDS as a "moral obligation" – even "a commandment". Watson, it seems, has decided to enthusiastically ally himself with the jailer and bulldozer against the human rights defender and forcibly displaced farmer.

Tom Watson, it seems, has decided to enthusiastically ally himself with the jailer and bulldozer, against the human rights defender and forcibly displaced farmer

Meanwhile, Michael Oren, deputy minister for public diplomacy in Benjamin Netanyahu's government of settlement cheerleaders and nationalist demagogues, slammed France's decision to make it obligatory to correctly label produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. For Oren, this modest measure was reminiscent of the Dreyfus affair and France's Nazi-allied Vichy regime.

Yet no matter how extreme the rhetoric gets, or how shameless the smears become, the case for BDS remains as straightforward and compelling as it always has been. It is based on the reality of Israel's longstanding, systematic violations of international law and human rights, on the call for solidarity from Palestinian civil society groups, and its value as a tactic.

The clarity of the case for BDS stands in stark contrast to the stagnation afflicting other potential arenas for advancing Palestinian rights, both internal and external.

Statement fatigue

At Fatah's long-awaited conference in Ramallah this past week, it was business as usual, despite the various and serious challenges awaiting novel solutions, both inside the party and with respect to the bleak picture faced by the Palestinian national movement more broadly.

The revitalisation of the Palestinian national movement, the fate of the PA, and the use of the UN as a forum for strategic gains, are all imperatives independent of BDS

Fatah's conference opened on the United Nations' annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked with a run-of-the-mill statement. UN peace process official Nickolay Mladenov, meanwhile, addressed the Fatah meeting in person.

But their statements merely highlight how, through the yawning disparity between UN resolutions and action, through the embrace of a "both sides" conflict resolution discourse, and by creating an enabling environment for Israel to violate Palestinian rights with impunity, international diplomats are a long way from showing meaningful solidarity.

BDS, it should be emphasised, is just one tactic. The revitalisation of the Palestinian national movement, the fate of the Palestinian Authority, and the use of the UN as a forum for strategic gains, are all imperatives independent of the global, civil society-driven boycott campaign. BDS can only do so much, but it is also something that can, and must, be done.

Year of anniversaries

There are three big anniversaries next year: the Balfour Declaration centenary (the mourning/celebration of which has already begun); 50 years of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in June; and 70 years since the adoption of the UN Partition Plan.

Without a doubt, many will feel like the best response to this "red-letter year" is to campaign for, and demand, apologies or measures such as the recognition of a Palestinian state. While it is not a case of "either or," I would suggest that the most strategic way to direct energies is at an intensification and expansion of the BDS campaign, in all its constituent parts.

For example, a boycott of settlement produce should be built on and expanded, since it is the Israeli state and various institutions (financial, academic, etc) that are either directly responsible for, or complicit in, the illegal colonisation of Palestinian land, the apartheid regime in the West Bank and the forced displacement of a stateless people.

Pressure on governments

It is also vital to make the case to our governments for pressure on Israel, rather than endless "engagement" and raising of "concerns," especially on issues where Israel has demonstrated that it is simply unwilling to end grave human rights abuses and war crimes – such as child prisoners and settlement expansion.

The arms trade, and the demand for an embargo, is similarly a serious issue that directly impacts on Israel's ability to control and brutalise the Palestinian people.

In short, BDS offers specific, concrete campaigns. As well as having useful goals in and of themselves, this helps advance that logic of pressure which, irrespective of other political developments, must shape the international approach to Israel's ongoing occupation and apartheid regime.

Ben White is the author of  Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy. He is a writer for Middle East Monitor, and his articles have been published by Al Jazeera, al-Araby, Huffington Post, The Electronic Intifada, The Guardian's Comment is Free, and more. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A woman holds a Palestinian flag as a truck passes by, during a protest against Grammy-winning American musician Pharrell Williams near the Grand west Casino, where he was holding a concert in Cape Town, on 21 September 2015. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign were protesting against the singer's partnership with major South African retail group Woolworths over its imports from Israel (AFP)

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