While the BDS Movement claims to represent palestinian Arab society, many palestinian Arabs are not on board with it, understanding it actually hurts them.
This has included the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has a history of opposing it.
For instance, in 2013, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told South African journalists:
“No, we do not support the boycott of Israel. But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements..But we don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.”
The following year, Jake Wallis Simon wrote Why even the Palestinian Authority opposes the boycott of Israel in The Telegraph:
Why even the Palestinian Authority opposes the boycott of Israel
At first glance, it doesn’t seem particularly unusual. In April, four Palestinian protesters were arrested after disrupting a performance by an Indian dance troupe at the Al-Qasaba theatre in Ramallah.
The protesters – Zeid Shuaibi, Abdel Jawad Hamayel, Fadi Quran and Fajr Harb – were activists in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to force the Jewish state into political, economic and cultural isolation. Their grievance was simple: the Indian dancers had previously performed in Israel.
(One might be forgiven for viewing performances in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah as a gesture of support for peace. But that’s not how the BDS movement sees it.)
But here’s the twist: in an unprecedented development, these protesters were arrested not by Israeli forces, but by the Palestinian police.
Moreover, the Palestinian authorities seemed determined to make an example of the BDS four, choosing not to let them go with a “slap on the wrist”. On 28 May they were formally charged with “provoking riots and the breach of public tranquillity”, and the case will go to court on 14 July.
The irony is tangible. All over Britain, the United States, Europe and Australia, campaigners for the BDS movement are lauded as champions of the Palestinian cause.
Many high-profile names have been linked to the movement, such as Desmond Tutu, Stephen Hawking, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Elvis Costello, and of course Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters (who last year, at one of his concerts, raised a large inflatable pig with the Star of David displayed on its side).
But it appears that the Palestinian leadership views BDS activists as little more than embarrassing troublemakers, and wishes to suppress them.
Omar Barghouti, a leading figure in the BDS movement, responded by releasing an almost comically petulant statement: “If the four men are brought before a court,” he said, “then we should prosecute the Palestinian Authority for serving the Israeli occupation’s project.”
In truth, however, it has long been clear that many Palestinian officials believe that the BDS movement does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people.
During Nelson Mandela’s funeral, it couldn’t have been plainer: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told reporters: “No, we do not support the boycott of Israel.”
Majdi Khaldi, one of his senior advisers, was even more explicit: “we are neighbors with Israel, we have agreements with Israel, we recognise Israel, we are not asking anyone to boycott products of Israel.” (Though the PA does support a boycott of settlement produce.)
From the Palestinian point of view, the arguments against BDS are quite straightforward. For one thing, BDS gives the distinct impression that the Palestinian side has no interest in the pursuit of compromise, peace and the two-state solution; activists have managed to block a succession of attempts at dialogue between ordinary Israelis and Palestinians in Ramallah and East Jerusalem.
For another, large numbers of Palestinian entrepreneurs – 16,000 of them, at the last count – heavily invest in the stable Israeli economy. According to researchers at Al-Quds University, Palestinians investments in Israeli businesses dwarf those made in their own territories.
It has also been argued that even a boycott of settlement businesses makes little economic sense for Palestinians. There are 14 Israeli industrial parks on the West Bank containing 788 factories (including Soda Stream). These businesses employ 11,000 Palestinians who are paid in accordance with Israeli labour laws, work side-by-side with 6,000 Israelis, and receive two or three times the average Palestinian salary.
Either way, one thing is clear: were the BDS activists to gain ground, the economic repercussions for ordinary Palestinians would be profound. Relations between Israel and the Palestinians, from the grassroots level all the way up to the leadership, would be further damaged through the erosion of what little trust remains. And other nation states – such as India, for example – will start to take a dimmer view of the Palestinian side, which is intent on demonstrating against their performers.
Despite the fact that there is undeniably a degree of popular support for BDS among Palestinians, it is an area in which the Israeli and Palestinian leadership appears to be in concert.
A senior Israeli official told me, “the bottom line is that both Israel and the Palestinians fully understand that our futures are intertwined, and joint projects, both cultural and economic are the future. BDS stands for the opposite. They are ‘professional haters’, usually not from the region, who preach division. I can’t speak for the Palestinian Authority, but is seems that this is why the PA takes a rough hand with them.”
However, it seems the PA has now said “Screw it.”
A few weeks ago, the PLO website published a call to the international community by the PLO in partnership with the BDS Movement, the Palestinian NGO Network, the Palestinian Ministry of Justice and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) to use BDS against Israel.
Based on the above, the conference:
Calls on governments, parliaments, and political parties, in the Arab world and globally, to contribute to dismantling Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid, starting with imposing a comprehensive military and security embargo on it; ending all commercial and financial agreements with it; and banning all products of companies complicit in its occupation, colonization, and apartheid. It also calls on all governments to treat the Israeli occupation’s political, security and military leaders as war criminals by trying them and banning them from entering their countries, and by putting pressure on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try them as well.
Calls on the peoples of the world and their democratic and progressive forces that uphold peace with justice to strengthen the growing global state of solidarity with the Palestinian people and our just cause by supporting – and actively participating in – the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Effective solidarity with our people’s liberation struggle begins with working in every arena to end the complicity of governments, companies and institutions with the Israeli apartheid regime.
The call is also published on the BDS Movement’s website, and they have announced it on social media.
This is perhaps the first ever public displays of direct collaboration between the Palestinian Authority and the BDS Movement (BNC).
Besides the fact the PA has seemingly opposed BDS for all of these years, this joint effort represents a significant change of course in another way: The BNC, which controls the BDS Movement’s website, social media accounts, and campaigns under the official BDS logo, has strived for years to present itself as a “grassroots” initiative, unaffiliated with the PA.
Now, as observed in the new joint call, the PA together with the PLO are openly working in conjunction with the BDS Movement – calling to intensify the BDS “grassroots” campaign against Israel.
What is also noteworthy is the language used in the statement, which highlights a growing shift in focus of the delegitimization network against Israel.
While the BDS Movement has traditionally stated its position as one that “does not advocate for a particular solution to the conflict and does not call for either a “one state solution” or a “two state solution” – but rather “focuses on the realization of basic rights and the implementation of international law” – this statement shows it is advocating for one state, a palestinian Arab one after Israel is dismantled.
This narrative is replacing the occupation narrative, which has typically been the central focus of palestinian Arab public claims, framing Israel as a military occupier of palestinian Arab society. An indication of this is how the statement employs the word “apartheid” 27 times, three times as often as it employs the word “occupation”.
The PA, PLO, and BDS Movement is also attempting to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a race-based conflict, depicting the palestinian Arabs as the natives, and the Jews as White settler-colonial European Zionists. They clearly understand this messaging is more likely to resonate with an increasingly “woke” world.
This narrative is replacing the occupation narrative, which has typically been the central focus of Palestinian public claims, framing Israel as a military occupier of Palestinian society.
Update: The call to action was preceded by two conferences hosted by the same entities. At one of them, Mahmoud al-Aloul , the Deputy Head of Fatah, bared his antisemitic fangs by misrepresenting Jewish belief.
“The occupation authorities focus in their system of apartheid within the lands of 1948 on the Zionist intellectual side, which claims that they are the chosen people, and the rest of the peoples are at their service.