Analysis from Israel

Last week, I wrote about a Palestinian author who refused to participate in a panel discussion with an Israeli at a French literary conference. But it turns out this wasn’t the author’s private initiative: Boycotting all Israelis, even those most opposed to the Netanyahu government, is now official Palestinian Authority policy – even as the PA tells the world its problem isn’t with Israel, but only with Benjamin Netanyahu’s “right-wing” policies.

The new policy was announced this weekend by Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior official in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. “We will try to thwart any Palestinian-Israeli meeting,” he said. “In Fatah we have officially decided to ban such gatherings.” And it’s already being implemented in practice, as The Jerusalem Post reported: Organized mobs of Palestinian protesters recently forced the cancellation of two Israeli-Palestinian conferences sponsored by a civil-society group. And Sari Nusseibeh, who was supposed to speak at one, didn’t even show up due to threats from the anti-normalization thugs.

I can’t dispute Abdel Kader’s assertion that most such conferences are a waste of time, because participants usually represent neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian mainstream. But that’s a far cry from banning them – especially if the PA were being truthful when it claims its only problem is the Netanyahu government. After all, the Israelis who attend such conferences are generally Netanyahu’s most vociferous critics, and vocal advocates of greater Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. If the PA isn’t even willing to countenance dialogue with them, which Israelis would it be willing to talk to?

Moreover, how is such a boycott supposed to persuade mainstream Israelis to favor the concessions the PA claims to want? Granted, Israeli activists’ enthusiastic reports of Palestinian “moderation” at such meetings have thus far had little impact; to most Israelis, Palestinian actions – from the rampant terror that followed Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank and Gaza to the PA’s serial rejection of statehood offers – speak louder than words. But is a refusal to talk to any Israeli at all a more convincing demonstration of Palestinian moderation?

Finally, the official reason given for the ban is bizarre: Fatah reportedly “fears that the Israeli government would exploit such meetings to tell the world that there is some kind of dialogue going on between Israelis and Palestinians and that the only problem is with the PA leadership, which is refusing to return to the negotiating table.” Given that the entire world has publicly blamed Israel for the impasse, why would Fatah fear any such thing?

One can only conclude that Fatah, unlike the rest of the world, knows the truth: The PA is the one that has steadfastly refused to negotiate, first imposing new conditions like a settlement freeze and then refusing to talk even if Israel accedes, as it did by declaring an unprecedented 10-month construction moratorium. And Fatah is desperately afraid Westerners will finally catch on.

So far, they haven’t. But they should. Because a Palestinian government that bans dialogue even with Israel’s far left is patently unready to make peace with Israel.

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In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

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