Palestinian boycott is self-defeating

Palestinian boycott may backfire and strengthen settlement movement

In the long term, the boycott could actually increase the strength and vitality of the settlements in the liberated Jewish territories.

By Israel Zwick, CN Publications, May 28, 2010

According to Google News, there are thousands of articles about the Palestinian boycott of products made in the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.  The issue is gaining in prominence and its potential for increasing friction between Jews and Arabs in Israel and in the liberated Jewish territories. Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have been personally involved in promoting the boycott, destroying millions of dollars of goods produced in the Jewish settlements, imposing steep fines on Palestinian merchants who sell these goods, and forbidding 25,000 Palestinian workers to continue their employment in Jewish industries.

Understandably, Israeli leaders have become increasingly concerned. Israeli businesses could lose hundreds of millions of dollars if the boycott spreads in intensity and geography.   Some businesses have already been forced to close.  Israeli leaders have termed the boycott, “economic terrorism” and a “declaration of war.”   While the boycott is ostensibly damaging to the settler enterprise, it could actually develop into a boon for the settler movement while undermining the position of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria.  In the long term, the boycott could actually increase the strength and vitality of the settlements in the liberated Jewish territories.

Before explaining the reasons for this unusual claim, I would like to emphasize that I am a strong proponent of harmonious coexistence in multi-ethnic populations.  I live in Flushing, NY, which has been cited as the most multi-ethnic neighborhood in the entire United States.  When I moved into the neighborhood about 35 years ago, my neighbors were mostly a mixture of Orthodox and Conservative Jews.  About 20 years ago, large numbers of Asians mostly from Taiwan and Korea began to move in while young Jewish families were moving out. Relations with the Asians have been amicable.  They work hard, maintain their property, support the public schools, and make an effort to be friendly. As the cute, little children pass by on their way to school, they wave and say, “Hi.”

More recently, there has been an increasing influx of Muslims, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.  We see more stores with Arabic writing selling Halal meat and more people with the distinctive Muslim clothing.   Several small mosques have opened in the area.  To date, there has been no friction with the Muslim immigrants.  Jews, Asians, and Muslims shop in the same stores, and walk the same streets without incident.  A stroll through the local Queens Botanical Gardens on a Sunday afternoon reveals multiple ethnic groups of all colors and conveys the impression that perhaps a UN convention is being held there. I look around and can’t help thinking how nice it would be if this harmonious coexistence could be transplanted to Judea and Samaria.  I was hoping that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan for “economic peace” in the territories would inaugurate a new era of mutual cooperation in the territories.     

Now the Palestinian boycott has dashed those hopes and threatens to increase the strife and conflict. Yet a careful examination of the situation suggests that the boycott may be self-defeating for the Palestinians while benefiting the Jewish settler movement.  First, it has to be understood that Arabs and Europeans who are buying goods from the settlements are not doing so to support the settlements but are buying because of a favorable combination of price, quality, and service.  I recall a time when Jews in New York would buy Israeli wines to support the Israeli economy even though the New York kosher wines were much cheaper.  That is not the situation now when Israel is producing a large variety of wines that are comparable to the best wines from California, France, and Italy. Israeli wines are now in high demand.

The Arabs who are buying Israeli products are doing so because they are good products that are well priced and readily obtainable. If they cease to buy Israeli products and work in Israeli industries, they will have to seek an alternative, which may not be readily available. The billions of dollars that the Europeans and Americans have donated to the Palestinians were not used to build industries, schools, and hospitals.  The Palestinians are still dependent on services from UNRWA and medical care from Israel. They have not been successful in developing their own industries and social services.  No one really knows what happened to all those billions but there are suspicions that much of it was deposited in the private bank accounts of influential Fatah members.

Now the PA Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, who helped initiate and fuel the boycott, wants to build a fund of $50 million dollars to compensate the 25,000 Palestinians who will have to terminate their employment in Israeli businesses.  Fayyad is hoping that the rich, generous Europeans can be relied on to contribute to the fund and support the boycott.  However, the Europeans are running out of money and will continue to purchase Israeli products as long as Israel continues to provide the right combination of price, quality, and service. If Israel loses a few European and Arab markets, there are still plenty left in North America, South America, Africa, and Asia.

Ultimately, the losers in this boycott will be the Palestinian Arabs.  They will lose their goods, services, jobs, and income.  Israeli businesses will initially lose some income and employees, so they will have to seek and develop new markets and sources for skilled labor. There is unlimited potential for new markets in the developing countries of Asia and Africa.  As for labor, there is still considerable underemployment in the Haredi, Russian, Ethiopian, and immigrant populations.  These sources need to be tapped and developed.  When they are, there will be a need for more Jewish housing in the liberated Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria. When the resident Arabs lose their income and can’t obtain goods for their families, they may be more inclined to move elsewhere, perhaps to countries that are so concerned for the “plight of the poor, oppressed, suffering, occupied Palestinians.”  Then Jews will be able to buy Arab properties at reduced prices and develop more Jewish neighborhoods and farms.  Settlement in the liberated Jewish territories will become opportune and necessary.  The Israeli population will have to become more supportive of the settlement enterprise.  The ultimate result will be increased growth of Jewish settlements with a concomitant decrease in the Arab population on the liberated Jewish lands.

Admittedly, this is an optimistic outlook for what appears to be a bleak situation, but Jews have always been dependent on hopes, dreams, and miracles. Everyday that Israel survives and prospers is a miracle.  The PA boycott of Jewish goods may also turn out to be a blessing in disguise.  Those who support the rights of Jews to settle in the liberated Jewish lands should continue the struggle to make it happen.  It may be the miracle that we have been praying for.

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