Progress recently published an article by Luke Akehurst about the Co-operative Group’s policy towards illegal Israeli settlements, which means that it does not stock their products. The author urged readers to use a customer survey that the Co-op is running to call for the organisation to overturn its boycott.
I believe that anyone who sees themselves as a progressive supporter of Israel and wants to see a two-state solution should do precisely the opposite. We should use the Co-op survey to express our support for their current policy because applying pressure to settlements is one of the only things likely to lead to the advent of a two-state solution.
First, I want to tackle one of the tactics that the article uses – the deliberate conflation of criticism of the policy and practice of the Israeli government with delegitimisation of the state of Israel. In my view this is a tactic increasingly used to shut moderate voices out of the debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with deeply damaging results. It leads to a polarisation of the debate about the conflict, and a dialogue devoid of nuance – something that is reflected in UK political debates about the subject. We must find a way to do better than this.
Let’s remind ourselves of the rightwing, sometimes extremist nature of Netanyahu’s government. As a progressive, a Labour activist and a cooperator, I have zero desire to defend such a government or its behaviour. Instead, I support the progressive voices in Israel doing their best to work for peace and for a two-state solution. Israeli organisations such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Machsom Watch, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Ta’ayush and former Israeli soldiers Breaking the Silence are often highly critical of the Israeli government. This is because their work exposes the damaging nature of the 47-year-old military occupation of Palestinian territory and settlement enterprise, and the accompanying human rights violations – in 2012, one Palestinian was killed and about 1,300 injured by Israeli settlers or security forces in incidents directly or indirectly related to settlements. These organisations are also often and rightly clear about the unacceptability of the terrorism that Israel has experienced from some extremist Palestinian groups.
All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. There is no possible scenario where a two-state solution is achievable without dismantling the vast majority of these settlements. They are widely recognised as the greatest obstacle to peace. Douglas Alexander says, ‘Building settlements on other people’s land is both illegal and wrong’ and describes their expansion as, ‘a body blow to hopes of a negotiated two-state solution.’ In this he is in agreement with William Hague, hardly a radical on this subject – he oversaw a British abstention on the UN vote to recognise a Palestinian state – who says, ‘We and our EU partners are clear: systematic, illegal Israeli settlement activity poses the most significant and live threat to the viability of the two-state solution.’
There is a consensus among most mainstream political actors that the time when a two-state solution will be achievable is fast running out. John Kerry has said there is about a year left, with Douglas Alexander and William Hague in broad agreement. Yachad, which describes itself as the ‘home of pro-Israel pro-peace British Jews’ believes that ‘the two-state solution is now in peril, apparently slipping out of reach … it is imperilled by the pretence that “time is on our side” when, in fact, time is running out.’ The reason for this is that Israel is continuing to build settlements at such a rate that there soon will not be enough land left for a Palestinian state to be viable. We are approaching the precipice – if two states become unachievable, then what?
Equipped with these facts that: 1. We can support Israel but be critical of its government’s action; 2. Israeli settlements are the biggest barrier to a two-state situation; and 3. We are approaching the precipice – if we reach it in a year’s time then all hope of a two-state solution will be lost, then what conclusion should we progressives draw?
In such situations, the application of economic pressure has been shown, time and time again, to make a difference. This is where the Co-op’s policy not to sell produce from the settlements is eminently sensible, entirely in line with its values of justice and fairness, and something that we should support. The Co-op buys from Israeli companies that don’t source from settlements; it doesn’t buy from Israeli companies that do source from settlements. As Luke Akehurst’s article notes, it also applies this policy to Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara.
Israeli member of the Knesset and chair of political party Meretz recently explained why she boycotts products from Israeli settlements but opposes a boycott of Israel as a whole. This is a policy that makes a two-state solution more achievable. Settlements in the Jordan Valley – deep inside occupied Palestinian territory, and one of the most fertile parts of any viable future Palestinian state – are feeling the economic pinch as more and more consumers across Europe decide they will buy their veg from sellers who aren’t a blockage to peace.
So, I support Israel but not its right wing government. I support progressive voices and organisations in Israel who love their country but badly want peace and know that change is needed to bring this about. And rather than trying to silence criticism, I believe that we need to act in the year or so that remains where a two-state solution is possible. Join me in responding to the Co-op survey to tell them why their settlement policy is right, and why it makes it easier to put your progressive values into practice.
Melanie Ward has visited Israel with the Union of Jewish Students and Labour Friends of Israel, has travelled extensively in the occupied Palestinian territory and worked there as a Human Rights Observer
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