Update to South Africans on the current Palestine-Israel-USA negotiations: continue to support BDS!
Some of us in South Africa have been supporting Kairos Palestine in their struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Kairos Palestine document (www.kairospalestine.ps ) does not prescribe a particular political future for Israel and Palestine, but calls on everyone to work together for a common future and for peace with justice.
The Kairos Palestine Document also calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
We at Kairos SA believe it is correct to do this because
(a) it is the only non-violent option left to the Palestinian people and their supporters (if we do not do it we are in fact encouraging a violent struggle) and
(b) it helps to put pressure on Israel and realign the balance of forces between Israel and Palestine. Some people might want to release the pressure on Israel at this time, but those who know anything about negotiations know that the pressure should only be released when a credible solution is found through negotiations.
So everyone should be encouraged to continue with the BDS campaign, and even strengthen it until our Palestinian sisters and brothers say to us that it should end.
Churches and other groups across the world have taken up the BDS call and should continue to do so. This is the best way to “encourage” the negotiations to reach a finality – we should be careful not to do the opposite, thinking that this will encourage the negotiations….stopping the BDS campaign will merely help to strengthen the hand of the already powerful.
There is no question that the USA is “Israel’s lawyer” and therefore we, the rest of the human community, should be “Palestine’s lawyer”. We can be this by continuing to support BDS.
At some point in a conflict, the parties who are involved (excluding no-one) should start negotiating with each other, and this now started happening again even though it is in an early and very fragile stage. The latest news is that they hope to have a settlement in nine months time.
As we in South Africa know, negotiations are a messy business and those leading the negotiations must have the right skills and the power balance must be right in order for the negotiations to succeed. For some of these reasons, the Palestinians have been correct to refuse to negotiate with Israel since the power balance is hugely in favour of the Israelis, and in any case the Israelis have continued to build more and more settlements on Palestinian lands even while the so-called negotiations were continuing. So it did not make sense for the Palestinians to continue negotiating.
Is there something different this time?
Many commentators are saying that these current talks will fail. South Africans know what was said about South Africa in the 1980s and during the negotiations here (it will end in a bloodbath….there will be a civil war, etc…) so we do not take these views too seriously. We listen to them all but quietly go ahead to do what must be done. Peace is ultimately not for the fainthearted, but for the strong-willed.
The “something different” this time might be the chaos in the neighbouring countries (particularly Egypt and Syria) and the subsequent loss of support to Hamas. Those who are negotiating are probably saying to each other: “This is the best time to negotiate: the key supporters of Hamas (this is the group who governs the Gaza strip after a free and fair election) are at their weakest at the moment.”
This is one of the weaknesses of the current round of negotiations: the exclusion of Hamas, while quite radical and racist pro-settlement anti-Palestinian groups are represented at the negotiating table. If the talks fail, it will probably be because a significant amount of Palestinians feel left out of the talks. One of the key considerations for those involved in the current round of talks should therefore be to see to what extent Hamas can become involved in the talks (if they want to be). They could of course be invited and refuse to participate, but this will then be their choice.
The legitimacy of these talks:
The legitimacy of what is eventually decided through these negotiations will have to be tested in both Palestine and Israel, probably through referendums. If Hamas continues to be excluded and calls for a boycott of the referendum and most Palestinians do not take part, then the legitimacy of what has been negotiated will be called into question (and the Israeli’s will then say: “You see, these Palestinians are not to be trusted, etc”).
There was a similar referendum (for whites only) in South Africa in 1990 and again, while some groups called it racist and illegitimate, someone such as Archbishop Tutu encouraged it to happen despite much criticism against him. Pres de Klerk won the referendum and was given a huge vote of confidence to go ahead with negotiating with the ANC and other political formations.
The reason for negotiating should not be to further weaken opponents, but to set in motion a process that would lead to a society where human rights FOR ALL are respected and institutionalised (and not only human rights for the elite).
The ANC in South Africa also had offshoots such as the PAC, who were seen as more “radical” than the ANC. But they all – except some extreme leftist groups – took part in the negotiations. Some of the left groups still encourage their people not to vote in the elections in South Africa. This is their right, but it does mean that they are effectively left out of the formal political arrangements in South Africa. But they can continue to act in other ways as citizens without voting…voting is one way to express citizenship. The opposite is of course also true: many people vote but do very little besides voting. Those who are totally apathetic or cynical do not vote and do not act out their citizenship either (except perhaps to pay taxes).
The balance of power:
This has shifted quite significantly over the last few years, in favour of the Palestinians. The BDS campaign has had several high profile successes (Stephen Hawking, Stevie Wonder, Mira Nair, etc). It is important to stress that the BDS campaign must continue and be strengthened until the Palestinian civil society groups call on us to stop the campaign.
At the United Nations and UNESCO, there have been several victories for the Palestinian people over the last few years.
The EU recently also insisted that goods produced in the settlements will be treated differently than goods produced in Israel.
Even the last election in Israel produced a shift in the balance of power, with Tzipi Livni (the current justice minister) receiving more votes than many expected and subsequently joining the current governing coalition in Israel.
One can mention many many more small and big things (eg the fact that Pres Obama is more secure in his second term), but the point is that the balance of power in Israel, Palestine and the Middle East region has shifted towards those Palestinians (and Israelis) who are looking for a credible and practical way forward.
What should we do as South Africans?
- We should continue to pray for true peace and justice in Palestine and Israel. From September 22 – 28, we can all support the World Council of Churches Prayer for Peace in Palestine and Israel with “Jerusalem: city of peace and justice” as the theme. Please see http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/events/world-week-for-peace-in-palestine-israel
- Those going on pilgrimages to the Holy Land should insist to meet with Palestinian Christians – the “living stones”- and sleep over in Bethlehem (rather than rushing in and out and only going to see the “dead stones”). It will be even better if the Palestinian Christians are your guides in the Holy Land (see www.atg.ps )
- We should continue to support the weaker party (the Palestinians), mainly through BDS.
- We should insist that Jerusalem belongs to all who live in it, Palestine and Israeli. That should be a non-negotiable (at this moment Israel wants to have all of Jerusalem for itself).
- We should do all we can to find ways of engaging all parties to ensure that Hamas eventually become part of the talks (provided the talks are in fact credible).
- We should work and pray for the interests of all those involved in this conflict, especially the refugees who have been in other surrounding countries for many years now and who would like to return to their homeland. Many of them are caught up in the current wars and we should work that all, and especially the women and children, are able to return to peace and security.
Rev Edwin Arrison 31 July 2013