Is a Settlement Boycott Best for Israel? APN's Lara Friedman in the New York Times

A powerful debate between APN's Lara Friedman and Rabbi Daniel Gordis in the New York Times.


Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied territories has been an obstacle to the two-state solution, considered the most likely hope for peace with the Palestinians.

Mishor Adumim.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has called for worldwide disassociation with Israel to end the occupation. Even many supporters of the two-state solution, though, condemn the movement because it attacks Israel itself and supports the right of refugees to return to homes in Israel that were theirs before its creation.

But what about a boycott of the territories, and all activity within them, to end the occupation? Would that be in the best interest of Israel and the most likely path to peace?

Remove the Obstacle to Real Peace

Lara Friedman 6:00 PM


Many Israelis hope that settlements will establish irreversible Israeli control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and create what they hope will be an insurmountable obstacle to the emergence of any future Palestinian state.

For decades, the world has protested, toothlessly, against settlements and the occupation. Boycotting settlements puts teeth into that protest – teeth bared, appropriately, not at Israel but at pro-settlement policies. As demonstrated by the Israeli reaction to European Union policies targeting settlements, and by the SodaStream fracas, these teeth can bite.

Israeli supporters of settlements and opponents of a Jewish state (including some in the global B.D.S. movement) despise the idea of boycotting settlements. Their zero-sum aspirations – either for a Greater Israel or Palestine-from-the-river-to-the-sea – are grounded in the insistence that Israel and the occupied territories are indivisible.

A settlement boycott, in contrast, insists not only on the illegitimacy of settlements, but also on the legitimacy of Israel, as defined, until a future agreement, by the 1949 armistice line – the "Green Line."

Insist not only on the illegitimacy of settlements, but also on the legitimacy of Israel.

Settlements have already cost Israelis dearly, in terms of their nation’s reputation, the health of its democracy, and its budget priorities. The security costs, too, have been high, with Israel’s lines of defense gerrymandered to accommodate settlements and with soldiers and resources continually diverted from protecting Israel against threats, to servicing the settlers. Most important, settlements threaten the two-state solution, without which Israel’s future as a democracy and a Jewish state are in peril.

A policy of boycotting settlements – adopted by nations and people who care about Israel – can push Israeli leaders to finally choose: Do they stand with settlements or do they stand with an Israel that truly seeks peace with its neighbors? Such a policy is clearly in the best interests of Israel, and may prove critical to keeping open the path for peace.

Palestinian Intransigence Is the Obstacle

Daniel Gordis 6:00 PM


Polls indicate that two-thirds of Israelis would cede almost all of the West Bank to make peace with the Palestinians. The reason that no agreement has ever been reached is not because of the settlers – who oppose such concessions but who would be outvoted in a plebiscite – but because the Palestinians are not interested in a deal.

Boycotting the settlements is immoral, for it would punish Israelis for Palestinians' failure to accept the Jewish state.

In recent decades, the Israeli position on the Palestinians has shifted sharply. The left-leaning Prime Minister Golda Meir said, in the 1970’s, “There is no Palestinian people.” But matters have changed. For the past four years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has supported the principle of a Palestinian state. What has not changed, however, is the Palestinians. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, recently reiterated his stance that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is “out of the question.” No less important, he has never, ever outlined his positions on critical issues such as the right of return for refugees, a right which – if actualized – could end Israel’s Jewishness overnight.

Boycotting the settlements is immoral, for it would punish Israelis for Palestinian intransigence. It is also unfair to Palestinians, for boycotts that focus on businesses based in the West Bank (SodaStream is a case in point) result in Palestinians losing their jobs.

But worst, boycotts undermine the peace process. Israelis are likely to continue to press for peace when they feel supported by the international community. Absent that support, they will be more reticent to take on the security risks that territorial concessions entail. Peace will then prove even more elusive not only because of the Palestinians, but due to international boycotters who only pretend to want to help.

Dissonance Is Within Israel, Not With Arabs

Lara Friedman 6:00 PM


In 1993, when peace efforts started, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were home to around 265,000 settlers. At the end of 2012, this number stood at around 540,000. The trend continues today: since the start of current peace efforts last August, the Israeli government has opened the settlement floodgates, promoting thousands of new units, including in areas that cannot possibly remain under Israeli control in a future peace agreement.

Most Israelis would cede land for peace. But settlers and their government supporters try to make sure that never happens.

While Netanyahu is nonetheless ostensibly committed to a Palestinian state, pro-settlement members of his government openly disagree, including top Israeli minister Naftali Bennett, who publicly gloats that settlements have taken the two-state option off the table. Another minister and two Likud members of the Knesset are pressing for Israel to annex the West Bank. Out of 20 Likud Knesset members, 17 oppose a Palestinian state. And politically powerful settler leaders proudly tout their success in blocking a Palestinian state.

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have behaved in ways that cast doubt on their desire for peace, staking out hardline positions on various issues supposedly up for negotiation. These include Netanyahu recently vowing not to remove a single settlement. Whether these leaders can eventually reach an agreement at the negotiating table is unclear. What is clear, however, is that settlement construction is an egregious example of an Israeli policy – with concrete impact on the ground – that is inconsistent with a commitment to peace and a two-state solution. And it is a policy choice for which Israel bears sole responsibility.

Boycotting settlements isn’t about rewarding the Palestinians for not making peace. It is about reminding Israelis – most of whom indeed support peace and are ready to cede land to achieve it – that settlement expansion and support for peace are mutually exclusive. It is about reminding them, too, of the high price of handing their nation's future to ideologues who value land and settlements over peace, security, democracy, and Israel’s standing in the world.


Israel Can Overcome Its Division to Win Peace

Daniel Gordis 6:00 PM


Lara’s arguments omit critical elements that would point to the senselessness of boycotts.

Yes, the number of settlers has grown. But many live in communities (like Gilo) that are essentially Jerusalem urban sprawl or thriving cities (like Maale Adumim with more than 40,000 residents) which even the Palestinians know will not be dismantled. And most Israelis already want smaller outposts dismantled.

Global action should be focused not on the Jewish state but on getting Arab leaders to be more open.

It is true that while Netanyahu has endorsed a Palestinian state, members of his governing coalition are ardent opponents. But consider his broader political strategies. He knows that if talks to advance that solution progress, those right-wing colleagues may leave the government. That is why he is not supporting a bill to draft the ultra Orthodox into the army, even though he favors it, so he can keep the ultra Orthodox (who have no position on a Palestinian state) a part of his coalition.

Only right-wing Israeli prime ministers have ever ceded land, and those to their right have never succeeded in blocking them. They couldn’t when Begin returned the Sinai to Egypt, or when Sharon pulled out of Gaza, and they couldn’t now.

So why would we need boycotts to remind Israelis how problematic the current situation is? Polls show Israelis want a deal. The prime minister expended significant political capital when he announced his support for a Palestinian state and then agreed – even with his right-wing coalition deeply opposed – to join the Kerry negotiations. Yet the Palestinians still refuse to budge, because people like those who support a boycott let them know that time is on their side, so they might as well dig in their heels.

When the Palestinians commit to ending the conflict once and for all and recognize us as the Jewish state we are, they will have their state. Israelis like me will vote for far-reaching concessions, wishing our neighbors nothing less than unbounded success and genuine peace.

Resist Extremists on Both Sides

Lara Friedman 6:00 PM


There is nothing senseless about boycotting settlements. It is a carefully considered policy, grounded in support for Israel and the two-state solution. It is needed because many Israelis, their leaders and their defenders have come to believe that wanting peace – or claiming to – or shifting focus to what Palestinians have or have not done, absolves Israel of responsibility to ensure that, by its own actions, peace does not become unattainable.

Settlement boycott undermines those who say the occupied territory let Israel thrive or that the Jewish state must end for a Palestinian one to live.

Certainly, some settlements would likely become part of Israel in an agreement, but facts on the ground tell the whole story: In 1993, “settlement blocs,” areas Israel would want to keep in a peace agreement, comprised a tiny part of the West Bank. Today, they comprise so much area that a viable, contiguous Palestinian state is nearly impossible. And today, settlement construction, and approvals for more, continues across the West Bank, including in areas that Israel could not possibly hope to keep under a negotiated agreement.

Yes, Netanyahu has committed himself to peace and the two-state solution while navigating complicated political waters, but his polices have been consistently pro-settlement, regardless of domestic politics. In his first term as prime minister (late 1990s), he defied the world to establish the settlement of Har Homa; his second term saw a settlement surge so large it erased the nine-month partial settlement “moratorium” imposed early in this period; and that surge has increased in his current term.

This is the context for today’s settlement boycott. This boycott is about patriotic Israelis and their friends overseas saying, enough. No more having the cake and washing it down, cost-free, with water carbonated in a machine made in a settlement, or wine from settlement vineyards.

Both Israelis and Palestinians who support the two-state solution stand to benefit from a settlement boycott. Time is on the side of extremists, on both sides, who prefer a winner-take-all outcome to a negotiated, two-state solution that is the best guarantee of Israel’s future as a democracy and a Jewish state. Only by embracing the idea of a settlement boycott can people who care about Israel push back against the false binary advanced by B.D.S. activists and Greater Israel ideologues alike: supporting the occupation or regarding Israel itself as the enemy.

Back the Only Modern Demcracy in the Region

Daniel Gordis 6:00 PM


“Supporting the occupation or regarding Israel itself as the enemy” is, indeed, a false binary. But that in no way suggests that boycotts are necessary or just. Precisely the opposite is the case. There is an infinitely better alternative: It is for the West to do, once again, what it used to do when it was animated by principle and conviction – to support those countries that embody its values, and to pressure those that do not to embrace the very best of political liberalism.

The West must be animated by principle to support those who embody its values, and pressure those who do not to embrace political liberalism.

Israel is a genuine democracy, but the Palestinian Authority is not. Israel protects the freedoms of gays and lesbians, but the P.A. persecutes people on the basis of sexual preference. Israel has a vital and free press, but the P.A. represses free expression at every turn. Israel has consistently stated its commitment to the realization of the political aspirations of the Palestinian people, but no Palestinian leader has been willing to state that Israel is the legitimate fulfillment of the national aspirations of the Jewish people.

Which society, then, should the United States and Europe be cajoling? Had the West pressured the Palestinians to create a genuine liberal democracy decades ago, Palestinians might have voted for a brighter future and this conflict might well have been resolved. But the West failed. Boycotts will hurt Israel, but far worse, they will embolden Palestinian recalcitrance.

Israelis already overwhelmingly favor making a deal if the Palestinians meet them midway. A poll last week indicated that approximately 75 percent would vote for a deal that gave up most of the West Bank, and even split Jerusalem, in return for a genuine peace. Such a population does not need to be boycotted; in fact, boycotting would backfire. If and when Israel eventually elects a hard-right leader, wholly uninterested in a deal, it will be in large measure because Israelis became convinced that there was no way to get a fair hearing in the court of international opinion, even when they were willing to make the deal. The West will then have failed once again, and the boycotts will have wrought precisely the opposite of what their proponents say they hope to accomplish.

lara_freidman_speaker Lara Friedman, a former U.S. foreign service officer, is the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now. daniel_gordis2-thumbStandard Daniel Gordis is the Koret distinguished fellow and chair of the core curriculum at Shalem College in Jerusalem. He is the author of "Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul."

This article appeared first in The New York Times on March 2, 2014.