28 April 2016

The inevitability of the BDS movement

The Palestinians need a Canadian champion, specifically a political champion. None of our three main political parties will stand up for them. It would normally be the responsibility of the NDP to demand justice for these beleaguered people—after all that is what social democratic parties are for—but it is apparently not about to wade into the politically incorrect waters of criticizing Israel.

The pat answer of our government, parroting the United States, is that a Palestinian state can only be achieved by direct negotiations with Israel, independent of third parties. This puts the Palestinians in an impossible position. All the negotiating leverage lies with Israel. Israel has the most effective military in the region, replete with nuclear weapons and supported unreservedly by the most powerful nation in the world, and it controls virtually all the land. The Palestinians have no military and control little. Asking them to negotiate with the party that holds all the cards is asking them to submit, to sit at the table and accept any crumbs they are offered.

This was amply demonstrated by the late, unlamented Oslo Accords. In 2001, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned an official history of the Norwegian-mediated negotiations. The report concluded, "... the Oslo process was conducted on Israel’s premises, with Norway acting as Israel’s helpful errand boy. ... Israel’s red lines were the ones that counted, and if the Palestinians wanted a deal, they would have to accept them, too." 

The only way negotiations can possibly be fair would be for the United States (no one else could do it) to pressure Israel into making a just settlement. But the Americans insist there must be no third party interference. One can only conclude they want the Palestinians negotiating on their knees.

With the utter failure of the American-sponsored "peace process," the Palestinians are attempting to make progress independently of Israel. These efforts have been consistently opposed by Israel's allies. In 2012, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to upgrade Palestine to non-member, observer-state status. It has also been accepted as a member of UNESCO and the International Criminal Court. This step by step approach to nationhood would seem ideal: completely non-violent and each step approved by the international community. Yet incredibly Canada, alongside the U.S., voted against the UN motion. Clearly they are determined to keep Palestine's future firmly in the hands of Israel.

The State of Palestine is recognized by 134 countries; however, with Israel and most Western countries denying recognition, to say nothing of Israel's continued occupation, the Palestinians cannot function as an independent entity.

When governments refuse to act on justice issues, inevitably civil society steps in. Enter the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Launched in 2005 by dozens of Palestinian civil society groups, BDS advocates for economic and cultural action against Israel "until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights." The movement has gone world-wide with supporters in Canada including the United Church, Independent Jewish Voices, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and other unions, and various student organizations.

The Palestinians continue to suffer from ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination and military occupation. Canada is a country that generally acts with a sense of fair play, but there are exceptions and our political parties' attitude toward the Palestinians is one of them. BDS gives Canadians an opportunity to support what our political leaders won't—justice for the people of Palestine.

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