With the same sad inevitability of death and taxes, a body that professes to care about the Palestinians but is mostly rabidly opposed to Israel took action this month that followed a familiar pattern: invoking the plight of Palestinians while doing them damage. For the umpteenth time, the source of the disconnect was the United Nations Human Rights Council, a bureaucracy long recognized by Democratic and Republican administrations alike as so debilitated by hypocrisy in general and anti-Israel bias in particular that it has precious credibility left. The action: The council published a blacklist of companies, including American ones, that in some fashion "do business" with Jews living in Israeli settlements. Everyone, including Palestinian negotiators, acknowledges that some of those settlements will formally become part of Israel in any eventual peace deal. The purpose: to support the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the vehicle of choice for those whose detestation of Israel outpaces their concern for the welfare of Palestinians.
For starters, the U.N.'s encouragement of the boycotting of businesses that engage with Israeli settlements on the West Bank largely hurts Palestinians. According to a report issued by the watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch based on interviews with Palestinian workers and lawyers, and the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, Palestinians prefer working for Israeli companies on the West Bank to Palestinian ones. Israeli employers pay substantially higher wages and provide Palestinians with the same health care benefits, sick leave and vacation time as Israelis. The boycotts of these companies, therefore, disproportionately harm Palestinians. This did not stop the vapid endorsements of the council's move by Palestinian leaders, who compete with one another to find slogans that make the least sense. "A timely message for those who push us toward chaos and lawlessness," Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom tweeted about a boycott that may separate Palestinians who want to work from the jobs that permit them to do so. He was trumped by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malik, who labeled the U.N.'s call for a boycott "a victory for international law and diplomatic efforts," a head-scratcher if ever there was one.
The history of Palestinian self-harm is long, wearying and depressing. Had Palestinian leaders accepted the independent Palestinian state created for them by the U.N. in 1947, there would never have been any Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Had they chosen to create a Palestinian state when Israel had no presence on the West Bank, likewise no settlements. Had they accepted the Palestinian state on virtually all of the West Bank and all of Gaza with a capital in East Jerusalem offered by Israel in 2000, 2001 and again in 2009, ditto. The narrative insistently peddled by Israel's detractors that Jewish settlements are the source of the unending Palestinian-Israeli conflict isn't merely ahistoric. It's balderdash.
It reflects no love for the knot of right-wing religious zealots who have Israel's democracy in their grip to point that out. One may be repulsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's noxious authoritarianism, or by how the love fest between him and President Donald Trump is degrading American empathy for Israel, and still stipulate the obvious: Given that the Palestinians reject an independent Palestinian state over and over, offered to them by left-leaning Israeli leaders and centrist ones, it ain't Netanyahu or West Bank settlements that pose the real problem.
Whether it is boycotts bathed in the clever rhetoric of human rights but guaranteed to hurt Palestinians most of all, or the organized terrorizing of Jewish kids on college campuses aimed at browbeating them into abandoning their support for a Jewish national homeland, the BDS movement has made intimidation its trademark. As Arab and African states have drawn closer and closer to Israel, and patience in the Mideast for the Palestinian preference for victimhood over statehood has waned, BDS has grown ever angrier and ever less credible. This is too bad for Palestinians, and too bad for the prospects for peace.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.