It is fair to say that Israel has long relied on the goodwill of the liberal democracies, but according to Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, it is now cultivating a new group of friends:
Since about the middle of 2015, the Israeli government has embraced Hungary’s avowedly “illiberal” prime minister, Viktor Orbán; worked to forge close ties with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, despite its limitations on civil liberties and legislation outlawing public discussion of Poland’s role in the Holocaust; warmly embraced Brazil’s right-wing nationalist leader, Jair Bolsonaro; provided a state visit for President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who once likened himself to Adolf Hitler… When Orbán and his party waged a campaign against Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros that was riddled with anti-Semitic content, and the Israeli ambassador in Budapest lodged a protest, the Israeli foreign ministry overruled him and declared Soros a legitimate target.1
Not that the liberalism of Israel’s old friends made much difference to Palestinians. The 50-year-plus annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza continue; more than 200 mostly peaceful, almost entirely unarmed Palestinians at the ongoing protests at the Gaza-Israel border that began in 2018 are gunned down through a fence by Israeli army snipers; and settlements spread like cancer. And what do the liberal democracies do? Nothing, really. At least with U.S. President Trump in charge, Palestinians are spared having to participate in pointless peace negotiations.
Ofri Ilani, in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, describes
Mounting international indifference to the suffering of the Palestinians, which in many cases morphs into hatred. The Palestinian people are becoming one of the chief victims of the new world order. And as a general rule, when it comes to them, the world really doesn’t give a fuck … International solidarity with the Palestinians has never been at such a low.2
It seems clear: the Palestinians cannot look for help to the international community. If Israel is to change, it will be up to them to make it happen.
The Palestine Liberation Organization has never rescinded the commitments it made back in 1993, when PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat wrote to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel in preparation for the Oslo Accords: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO commits itself … to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations … The PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence.”3
There have been “terrorism and other acts of violence,” but beyond the commitments affirmed in Arafat’s letter, the PLO has engaged in “security coordination” with Israel, which many Palestinians regard as “doing Israel’s dirty work.” The result has been more settlers and more settlements.
Since 2005 many Palestinians have been promoting the explicitly nonviolent call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).4 Not that they get any credit. Israel and the Israel lobby treat BDS as if it were a terrorist organization. Yosef Kuperwasser, Senior Project Director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, writes in Tablet Magazine, “The aim of demands is the total annihilation of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people.”5
It would be the first case of a country being annihilated by a boycott. It seems Palestinians should not engage in violent resistance and they should not engage in nonviolent resistance either.
While the Israeli administration seems untroubled by anti-Semitism among its new friends, the Israel lobby has stepped up its campaign to label as anti-Semitic all criticism and critics of Israel. BDS is one example. Another is the vendetta against Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party leader and longtime supporter of Palestinian rights. On July 25, 2018, the U.K.’s three leading Jewish newspapers warned, in a joint editorial entitled “United We Stand,” that the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party would represent an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country.”6 Party activists and Corbyn allies Chris Williamson and Jackie Miller were ejected from the party, Williamson for suggesting accusations of anti-Semitism in the party were exaggerated, Miller for suggesting that Holocaust Day be shared with victims of other genocides.
Recently, the Israel lobby has been engaged in efforts to have countries and organizations adopt the International Holocaust Memorial Association definition of anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”7 The IHMA’s definition is vague and inept, but the bigger problem is the 11 “examples” attached, seven of which mention Israel.
Once a critic of Israel is labelled an anti-Semite, the focus, of course, shifts from the criticism to the critic. Given Israel’s new openness to illiberal and anti-Semitic regimes, one must conclude the target is not anti-Semitism but criticism of Israel. To date, the IHMA definition has been adopted or endorsed by the U.K., Austria, Scotland, Romania, Germany, Bulgaria, Belgium, Sweden, Lithuania, the Republic of North Macedonia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, the Republic of Moldova, the Czech Republic, Hungary, France and Canada.7
The more Palestinians’ commitment to nonviolence grows, the more brutal and antidemocratic Israel becomes, while efforts by the West to shield Israel from criticism intensify.
In 2004, in these pages,8 I argued that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could not lead to peace. I asked: “Should the international community use force to compel the two-state solution?” I answered: “Yes.” I acknowledged that this was unlikely – but if chances were small then, they are nonexistent now. (As I write, the results of the September Israeli election are inconclusive, except for this: little will change for Palestinians in the territories.)
The Israel lobby has proven highly successful. It is assisted by the fact that, in the midst of current crises, from the rise of the populist right to the climate emergency, it will be harder for Palestinians to get the world’s attention. When asked recently about the UN’s intensified focus on the climate crisis, Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said it was important, “but from our perspective the fact that Israel is not being discussed is an achievement.”9
The international community has let the Palestinians down. It is evident that current Palestinian strategies are not working.
Martin Conboy (friend, colleague and Irish immigrant) said to me recently that Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement would not have happened were it not for Irish Republican Army violence against British soldiers and the Northern Ireland police forces. In the 20 years leading up to the agreement, some 1,800 soldiers, police and civilians were killed by the IRA. (The IRA considered British forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and members of the nongovernment Ulster Defence Forces legitimate targets. When civilians were killed by mistake, the IRA apologized.) Negotiations had been proceeding, without success, under various British prime ministers. When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, he was determined to end the violence. Blair asked the army for an assessment. They advised that the armed forces were incapable of defeating the IRA. Blair decided to force serious negotiations. The result was the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
South Africa was forced from the Commonwealth in 1961 and expelled from the International Olympic Committee in 1970. The PLO and BDS have no similar achievement. It is now clear that unless Israel suffers serious consequences from its 52-year-old occupation, it will not negotiate in good faith (or simply withdraw from the territories). The international community, it is clear, will not impose those consequences.
It should be noted that, according to many sources, the Palestinians have a right to armed resistance. The United Nations General Assembly, for example, in resolution 37/43 (1982) reaffirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.”10
Israel would call any such resistance “terrorism” and we know how it would respond. The Israelis have no compunction about collective punishment: when a terrorist attack takes place in the West Bank, the IDF destroys the homes of the suspects’ families; from January 2009 to August 2019, for each Israeli killed by Palestinians, Israeli security forces killed 18 Palestinians11; at the Gaza fence, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed and 6,300 injured by live ammunition, in contrast with, as far as I can tell, five Israeli soldiers injured, none by live ammunition.12 That’s a casualty rate of 1,300 to 1.
But what else are the Palestinians to do in the absence of concrete action by the international community? In response to an untenable situation, we should not be surprised to find an increase in Palestinians’ spontaneous and suicidal violence, and a new strategy of violent actions that are disciplined and carefully planned.
1 Robert Kagan, Israel and the Decline of the Liberal Order, Washington Post, September 12, 2019
2 Ofri Ilani, As Islamophobia Is Embraced Worldwide, Israel Allows Itself to Let Loose, Haaretz, September 21, 2019
3 Israel–Palestine Liberation Organization Letters of Recognition, Wikipedia, retrieved from
4 See the BDS website
5 Yosef Kuperwasser, The ‘Peaceful’ Movement to Destroy Israel, Tablet, May 1, 2019
6 Corbyn Government Would Be ‘Existential Threat,’ U.K. Jewish Newspapers Warn, Reuters, July 26, 2018
7Working Definitions and Charters, policy guidance from IHRA experts
8 No More Negotiations, Inroads, Summer/Fall 2004
9 See Anshel Pfeffer, Global Climate Change Crisis: Best Thing to Ever Happen to Israeli Hasbara, Haaretz, October 4, 2019
11 B’tselem, Statistics
12 2018–19 Gaza Border Protests, Wikipedia