Matching Israel's Might: US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in January. The Palestinian method of boycott, divest and sanction against Israel would be a key tactic if two-state talks fail. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ABU DIS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY — If US Secretary of State John Kerry manages to prod Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a two-state peace deal, Israel stands to gain a treasure trove of additional aid, joint development opportunities and other US assurances for sharpening its military edge.
But in the more likely event that talks collapse, both sides are preparing for a new type of asymmetrical warfare that cannot be fought through use of force.
Far more threatening than RPGs, APCs and other commonly known three-letter acronyms of traditional warfare, the growing global BDS movement aims to boycott, divest and sanction Israel into submitting to Palestinian statehood demands.
An asymmetrical silver bullet of sorts aimed directly at Israel’s lifeblood, BDS is emerging as the most powerful leg of a strategic triad of nonviolent economic, legal and diplomatic alternatives to armed struggle.
If universally embraced as an alternative to terrorism, experts on both sides of the conflict say it may prove to be the ultimate countermeasure to Israeli military might.
“Like the legal assaults we call law fare, BDS cannot be combated through use of force. It is completely outside any kind of standard military framework,” said Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based institute aimed at combating BDS and other anti-Israel movements.
Steinberg views BDS — a nine-year-old movement with a proliferating base of global supporters — as a potent virus rather than a strategic assault weapon aimed against all of Israel and not only its presence in the disputed West Bank.
“If left untreated, it will continue to weaken us and cause significant pain. ... That’s why it took the Israeli defense establishment so long to recognize it as a threat,” he said.
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid has assessed BDS damage at $5.7 billion in lost exports each year, a $3.1 billion erosion in annual gross domestic product and immediate unemployment of some 10,000 people.
“If the negotiations with the Palestinians stall or collapse and we enter the reality of a European boycott — even if it’s extremely limited — the Israeli economy will falter and every Israeli citizen will feel the pain directly,” Lapid told a Jan. 29 conference of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee has described its online campaign to expand global support as an electronic intifada, far more effective than Molotov cocktails and suicide bombs.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly distanced himself from the 102 Palestinian and worldwide organizations actively involved in BDS. Nevertheless, he has repeatedly endorsed non-violent resistance as the most effective method for securing political goals.
“We consider use of force as part of the past,” Abbas told former Israeli negotiator Gilead Sher.
In a late January interview aired at last month’s Institute for National Security Studies conference, Sher asked Abbas about his “Plan B” for escalating legal and other nonviolent options should diplomacy fail. His reply: “I hope it won’t reach that point. We prefer to reach an agreement.”
But Abbas insisted, “I have the right to go to all institutions, but I hope to avert legal, political and diplomatic collisions.”
In a Feb. 19 briefing in this West Bank town adjacent to Jerusalem that may become the capital of the future Palestinian state, a former Palestinian negotiator and lead member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee made repeated references to contingency plans.
“We appreciate Kerry and want him to succeed. The Palestinian people want peace but not at the expense of our rights,” said Ahmed Qurei, a former prime minister of the Palestine Authority now serving as head of Jerusalem Affairs.
When asked about options should talks collapse, Qurei — also known as Abu Alaa — said the Palestinians will turn to “all of the Palestinian and international institutions” to coordinate an escalation of resistance.
“Palestinians will not surrender and raise a white flag. We will continue to resist the occupation” using the most prudent methods of popular struggle, he said. ■