The Ideal And The Real: The BDS Movement and Palestine’s Future


Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 8.54.56 am

THE GREATEST ENEMY of the peoples of the Middle East is idealism. It was the idealism of the Zionists that led them to Palestine. Likewise, the idealism of the American Neo-Conservatives that led them to Iraq. The young idealists who gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square wished for a democratic Egypt – only to reject it in favour of military intervention when their wish came true. Idealism is hard to please. It does not compromise. Neither does it surrender. Idealists cry – “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!” – though very few of them are to be found living in the ruins. That’s because idealists are very good at lighting fires, and notoriously bad at putting them out. Why else does Syria continue to burn?

As their starting point, those who call themselves “realists” do not judge the world according to how it should be, but as it is. Unlike the idealists, they are always willing to compromise. In the ears of the realist, “surrender” is not a dirty word. They understand that to secure peace, it is sometimes necessary for one side to give up the fight. Realists understand that the cry for perfect justice is all-too-often a cry for perpetual war.

Peace in Northern Ireland was not negotiated by idealists, but by realists. Peace in Palestine will, likewise, be the achievement of those who begin with the situation as it is, not as it should be, or, as it was.

The Zionists have been in Palestine since the end of the nineteenth century. For more than 100 years, they have waged an unceasing – and largely successful – struggle to transform Palestine into Israel. Since November 1917, their staunchest allies in this endeavour have been the world’s pre-eminent powers: first Great Britain and then the United States.

In these circumstances the restoration of the status quo ante is simply not a realistic option. Nor is a recourse to force majeure. Three times that has been attempted (1948, 1967, 1973) and three times it has failed. What’s more, if threatened with imminent destruction, the State of Israel now possesses sufficient nuclear firepower to turn the entire Middle East into a radioactive wasteland. No one would be found living in those ruins.

All of which raises the question: Is the current Palestinian-initiated campaign to boycott, divest, and impose sanctions on Israel (the BDS Movement) the work of idealists or realists?

Sadly, the BDS Movement is a work of idealism, not realism. While it is not inconceivable that the Golan Heights may one day be returned to Syria (or whatever entities succeed that tragic state) as part of a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel, it is very difficult to conceive of a situation in which the Israeli Government would agree to empty the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Any attempt to do so would be politically suicidal.

TDB Recommends

The BDS Movement’s final demand: that the Israelis concede the Palestinians’ so called “Right of Return” is even less likely to be met. Only an idealist could make such a demand. Because only an idealist could believe that Israel would ever accede to its own dissolution.

The “Right of Return” is the supreme example of the Palestinians’ belief that a return to the status quo ante (i.e. the legal situation that prevailed before the outbreak of full-scale war between Israelis and Arabs in 1948) is possible.

Elderly Palestinians who fled their farms and villages in 1948 speak openly of reclaiming their property from its Israeli possessors. Many still keep the keys to the houses they abandoned at the outbreak of the war. Even though the vast majority of Palestinians living today were not born in 1948, the “Right of Return” remains non-negotiable. Palestine is their home – and they will settle for nothing less.

From the perspective of the Israelis, however, the “Right of Return” is regarded as code for the destruction of the State of Israel. Not all Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948, say the Zionists, many left voluntarily – confident of reclaiming their property the moment the invading armies of Israel’s Arab neighbours had driven the Jews into the sea. Fortunately for the Jews, say the Zionists, the Palestinians lost their bet. Israel won the war and Palestine ceased to exist as anything other than a geographical/historical expression.

The Palestinians reject this description utterly. In their eyes, the geographical/historical entity known as Israel has erected a racist state comparable to Apartheid South Africa, which must be given no legitimacy while the territory’s original, Palestinian, inhabitants remain dispossessed of both their land and their rights.

While the “Right of Return” remains non-negotiable, the Realists’ “Two State Solution” (in which an independent Palestinian State is erected on the West Bank of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip) remains dead in the water. While the Palestinians refuse to accept that the status quo prevailing within the British Mandate of Palestine’s 1948 borders can never be restored, the Israeli settlers on the West Bank will never be persuaded to dismantle their communities.

Which also means that while the BDS Movement continues to demand the Palestinians’ “Right of Return” its chances of success remain slim. Already Israel’s allies in the USA, the UK and the EU are mobilising their considerable political and media resources to thwart its divestment campaign and to brand its leading activists and supporters anti-Semites.

Within Israel itself, the sense of being isolated and “persecuted” by individuals, organisations and nation states hell-bent on its destruction has already driven Israeli politics sharply to the right. Far from weakening the power of Zionism over Israeli society, the BDS Movement is strengthening its grip.

How ironic it would be if the actions of the BDS Movement, and other like-minded NGOs, succeeded in transforming the 93-year-old proposal of Zionism’s most extreme advocate, Vladimir Jabotinsky, into the only “realistic” alternative.

In 1923, Jabotinsky wrote:

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

The Israeli Government has already constructed a concrete wall to both contain and constrain the lives of the Palestinians within the territory it occupies. How long can it be before an unrepentent Zionism pushes every last member of Palestine’s “native population” beyond an all-encompassing “iron wall” that cannot be broken through?


  1. Sooo much wrong with this analysis, Chris.

    You’re simply repeating official Zionist dogma that has conspicuously failed to withstand serious historical scrutiny.

    First up: “Nor is recourse to force majeure. Three times that has been attempted (1948, 1967, 1973) and three times it has failed.”

    Nope. 1948 and 67 initiated by Israel in order to militarily carve out the long hoped for Greater / Eretz Israel. The original Zionist acceptance of Partition was purely tactical – as Ben Gurion made clear, it was a springboard for Israeli territorial expansion. The entire spectrum of Zionist opinion shared this view.

    In 48, Israel cut a deal with TransJordan to divide Palestine between them. When the Arab armies did finally (and reluctantly) take action, their aim was simply to check the grandiose territorial ambitions of both Israel and TransJordan (the latter, incidentally, had guaranteed not to attack Israel proper – thus crucially contributing to Israel’s eventual victory).

    The 1967 ‘Six Day War’ was very much a war of aggression by Israel – which launched its offensive at the precise moment that Egypt was entering a very promising peace initiative brokered by Washington. A close look at the record of peace diplomacy over the immediate weeks running up to Israel’s June 67 attack makes it crystal clear that Israel had refused each and every one of the initiatives offered by the US and the UN. Make no mistake: Israel badly wanted war – they’d spent the previous 5 years doing everything they could to provoke it. Apart from wanting to give Nassar a bloody nose, Israeli leaders had long coveted the West Bank, East Jerusalem and (to a lesser extent) Gaza.

    1973 was really the most publicly-broadcast build up to a War in history. For two whole years, Egypt had issued warning after warning in order to recover its territory stolen and now increasingly settled by Israel. Not one country in the world, including Israel’s closest ally, the US, condemned Egypt for aggression on this. The consensus was that Egypt had the right under International Law to recover its sovereign territory.

    another comment on its way

    • Why did they make attempts in the 1967 war to keep Jordan out. In fact it was Jordan who declared war on Israel not the other way around. Your analysis is thus as flawed as you claim Mr Trotter’s is.

  2. “It is very difficult to conceive of a situation in which the Israeli Government would agree to empty the Jewish settlements on the West Bank.” / “Right of Return”

    Yeah, unfortunately this is International Law, Chris, (a full withdrawal to the 67 border and a just resolution of the refugee question) Israel doesn’t get some special exemption on this.

    Fortunately, far from the Right of Return remaining non-negotiable in Palestinian eyes (as you’ve suggested), the various Palestinian negotiation teams over the years have been prepared to greatly compromise on what is their legal right. They’ve agreed that the numbers returning would be small and largely symbolic.

    Let’s be clear: there will be no historical settlement in the Middle East unless Israel fully withdraws. Anything less = an on-going Palestinan prison rather than a viable State.

    Israel has always been the Rejectionist party in the so-called ‘Peace Process’ and that’s largely because it has no incentive to obey International Law. It enjoys an almost entirely cost-free Occupation of Palestinian Territory.

    The EU pays the bills in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority does the dirty work for Israel (providing ‘security’ for their occupiers) and, of course, the US fully protects Israel diplomatically at the UN and other international forums while also providing massive financial and military support.

    Israel gets to have their cake and eat it too.

    Which is why boycotts and sanctions need to be part of the solution. The only way to push Israeli elites (and the wider population) towards fulfilling their obligations under International Law (full withdrawal / Just resolution) is to make the State of Israel pay the price economically and culturally. A brutal, illegal occupation (and defacto Annexation process) that’s been going on for nigh on half a century. It’s utterly insane !

    And it’s more than a little sad when otherwise progressive voices like yours are so compromised by long-demolished Zionist propaganda tracts.

    • Not often I agree with Chris Trotter but in this case his version of history while distorted is more accurate than the version by Swordfish

  3. Swordfish says it all…Chris Trotter has yet again lost his way…his dream of being a left wing supporter has yet again been exposed as absolute rubbish…his direct support for Israeli aggression by simply accepting whats done is done.
    Imagine if the world had simply accepted German behaviour up to second world war and the world had allowed the complete destruction of the Jewish race…I can image Chris simply saying…So what!
    The whole world knows that Israel is not a country in modern terms, it is but a prison camp set up by firstly a British Jewish Prime Minister, and later by the United States which gave it the atomic bomb so both Israel and the US could control Middle East oil…US got the oil and Israel got the bomb and the people of Palestine got enslaved. The world got middle east destabilization, dictators including Israel got rich. The US refuses to join up with international law organisations and along with Israel votes against UN resolutions to fix the murderous situation that now exists in Israel and its stolen territory…The latest vile episode is the US accepting mass child killing by Saudi Arabia…remember Hillary Clinton and Saudi Arabia are the best of mates…
    Take a holiday Chris go visit Israel and decide on which side of the wall you’d like to reside…do us all a favour and move to Israel I’m sure they would welcome you with open arms…

  4. Another interesting and thought provoking post Chris. Thanks!

    Northern Ireland is a good parallel. Maybe there is a season for war and a season for peace. In the end the Irish on both sides of the fence were sick of it all and just wanted to live normal lives and the warmongers lost support. Hopefully this will be the case with Israelis and Palestinians too.

    You can be sure Israel is’t going anywhere. It is the only functioning democracy in the region and is a powerhouse of science, technology, art and literature. The Arabs have to get their heads around that, move on and take advantage of all that Israel could offer them. (note: Most Palestinians are the descendants of immigrants from neighbouring nations who were drawn there because of the work opportunities that Jewish settlers offered. For example Arafat was actually an Egyptian by birth)

    Although it is an imperfect nation (show me a country that isn’t!) Israel deserves better treatment than it gets from the BDS movement , who are in effect just playing into the hands of the region’s tyrants. Tyrants who should have no association with the progressive movement.

  5. Does anyone know which border/s the Zionists will stop at? When enough is enough?

    There are Palestinian people parked up in surrounding countries, in limbo, very similar to the Syrian refugees. Denied decent education and employment, and waiting to go ‘home’. That injustice has to be cleared. Soon. As a separate necessity from the turmoil.

    I agree, Chris. “the sense of being isolated and “persecuted” by individuals, organisations and nation states hell-bent on its destruction has already driven Israeli politics sharply to the right.” It could be far to the left, too, and they’ll still feel threatened. (Being of a mean disposition, I’d put it down to a collective guilty conscience…)

    Sweet Reason is NEVER going to work against existential emotion.

    For me – it’s the bullying, theft, humiliations, and PowerOver plays with these people. Plus all the ‘fundamentalists’ who ‘answer the call’ and turn up on the doorstep wanting more than just a home near the synagogue. Land! Water! Someone else’s vineyards, olive trees, stock and crops!

    I just wish America would give these ‘green the desert’ American Jews a large chunk of their own more arid states and let them play there. Even give them free trips to The Homeland – like trips to Mecca – but keep their rule by gun and ‘righteousness’ where it began, and has yet to cease.

    Of course ‘Right of Return’. But if the Muslims can manage Mecca and still send the pious home at the end of the visit – then the Israelis can do the same with Jerusalem. Pilgrimage, not settlement. Managed, so the scarce resources of land, water, food and fuel, can cover the locals and the visitors.

    Co-existence is probably the best that can be achieved – at least for the next couple of hundred years, at any rate. Or longer, if Drogheda is any indicator of a grudge long-carried.

  6. Unbelievable!
    ” the idealism of the Zionists that led them to Palestine”. Idealism?
    The Zionist intention was and still is,to take over the land and its resources, including water, and expel the natives. Zionism is a crude, vicious, racist political tribal agenda that originated in eastern Europe. As the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has said, far too many Israelis don’t even accept that Palestinians are human.

    “Idealism of the American Neo-Conservatives that led them to Iraq. “? Is Trotter for real? Is this meant to be some pathetic attempt at satire? So Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Albright, Blair, Bush etc..are idealists?

    No mention of justice in this article. Peace without justice is cruel. His ‘advice’ to the Palestinians seems to be , lie down and die quietly.

    What has driven Israeli politics to the the realisation by Netanyahu and his ilk that they can do whatever they like: steal all the water, demolish houses and whole villages even, use experimental weapons on Gaza, arrest adults and children en masse, shoot fishermen, drive farmers off their ancestral land into tiny isolated ghettos..use sewage water on peaceful demonstrators..anything. And the Western elite will do nothing .

    BDS is a call from Palestinian civil society for people of conscience world-wide to help them in a non-violent way. Such a campaign played a large role in convincing the South Africans eventually, that the apartheid regime was unsustainable.
    The issue is one of morality, of justice.

    • “What has driven Israeli politics to the the realisation by Netanyahu and his ilk that they can do whatever they like: steal all the water, demolish houses and whole villages even, use experimental weapons on Gaza, arrest adults and children en masse, shoot fishermen, drive farmers off their ancestral land into tiny isolated ghettos..use sewage water on peaceful demonstrators..anything. And the Western elite will do nothing .”
      And so there will never be a resolution.
      There is nothing any idealist or realist can offer that will result in a resolution, until all Palestinians either die out or are finally over run by Israel imperialism.
      Israel has never declared it’s boundaries, so where is any negotiation suppose to even start to be discussed?
      It’s ironic that Zionism seems ideologically so similar to German Nazism and so I doubt many Palestinians would compare their plight to those of Northern Ireland or South Africa.

      However, the BDS Movement, while not particularly successful because the US and Europe will make sure Israel is not harmed by this action, it is something that perhaps gives Palestinians hope.
      God (or who ever) knows they need it.

    • Typical anti Jewish rhetoric from some who hides behind the anti-Zionist banner.
      The BDS are no better than the Nazi’s that banned the Jews from trading during the time of Nazi Germany.
      Lois Griffiths needs to do intellectually research given the distorted historically views held by this person.
      Israel has been the land of the Jew’s since 1300BC ((Israel & Judah) and will remain Jewish. Its the Arabs that are the invaders and should be pushed back into the Arabian desert where they came from.

  7. Horrifying, but quite right, Chris. It is exactly why a two-state solution will not work. On the other hand the massive re-financing and investment in the Palestinians within a single, unified state, and the demand for universal voting and land rights within that unified state actually has a better chance. Financial prospects usually trump political purity, look at Northern Ireland. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t even pretty, but anyone not looking down the wrong end of the telescope will immediately see it is better.

    In the meanwhile, I would love it if every American were forced to read and understand the implications of that quotation from Jabotinsky.

    The strange American view of Israel, I think, comes from the idea that they single-handedly saved the Jewish nation. It’s part of the American exceptionalism myth. Now they are permanently in the debt of Israel (not the other way round) for making them so proud of themselves.

Comments are closed.