Next week, Presbyterians meeting in Detroit have a historic opportunity to help change the fundamental dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict by considering divestment from three companies significantly tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Sometimes a situation that appears hopeless is actually poised for a new beginning – when the apparent hopelessness reflects acceptance that conventional wisdom has utterly failed to bring about solutions and that solutions require actions that conventional wisdom has blocked.
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Next week, Presbyterians meeting in Detroit have a historic opportunity to help change the fundamental dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict in a way that will bring a just resolution of the conflict closer. They’ll be considering divestment from three companies – Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard – that are significantly tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
When I refer to the “Israeli occupation of Palestine,” I mean by “Palestine” the areas of historical Palestine that were militarily occupied by Israel in 1967 – Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem – which have been the focus of Palestinian national aspirations for an independent state since 1974, and which were implicitly recognized as “Palestine” by 138 countries when they voted 138-9 to accord “Palestine” non-member observer state status in the United Nations on November 29, 2012.
Caterpillar’s bulldozers have been used to demolish Palestinian homes. (A Caterpillar bulldozer killed American peace activist Rachel Corrie when she tried to block the Israeli destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza.) Motorola supplies Israeli military occupation forces in the West Bank. Hewlett-Packard has supplied the Israeli military with products to administer the Israeli blockade of Gaza and to maintain checkpoints that control Palestinian movement in the West Bank.
The most important reference point for non-Presbyterians to judge the morality and wisdom of the divestment that the Presbyterians are poised to consider is the context of failed diplomatic efforts for the last 20 years to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
For the last 20 years, the fundamental dynamics of efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict have been:
1) The anti-occupation forces in Israel have not nearly been strong enough politically to defeat the pro-occupation forces. On the contrary, the pro-occupation forces in Israel have dramatically increased their political power and the anti-occupation forces in Israel have dramatically lost political power. This dynamic is exemplified by the participation of West Bank settlers adamantly opposed to Palestinian independence as ministers in the current Israeli government.
2) The United States government has dominated the process of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Historically, Arab diplomacy to resolve the conflict was based on the assumption that at the end of the day, the US government would pressure the Israeli government into taking actions necessary to achieve a political resolution of the conflict. But the US government has proved incapable of doing this, because of the political power of the pro-occupation lobby in Washington. This dynamic was exemplified when the Obama Administration failed in its efforts to compel the Israeli government to freeze its expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
3) Therefore, if there is going to be a just resolution of the conflict, effective pressure on the Israeli government to agree to a just resolution is going to have to come from outside of Washington.
4) The same pro-occupation forces that have blocked Washington from taking effective action to pressure the Israeli government to accept a just resolution of the conflict are understandably opposed to any effort to go around them by imposing pressure on the Israeli government in other arenas.
5) However, the political strength of the pro-occupation forces is much less outside of Washington and has been decreasing outside of Washington much more rapidly.
This is the political context in which Presbyterians will consider divestment from three companies linked to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, when they meet next week in Detroit.
If the Presbyterians vote yes on divestment – which they well might, given that at their assembly two years ago, divestment failed very narrowly – non-Presbyterians will hear that as support for the key ideas that:
1) Increased pressure on the Israeli government is essential to resolving the conflict;
2) there is no visible prospect that the necessary pressure on the Israeli government will come from Washington; and
3) therefore, institutions like the Presbyterian Church will have to take the task of pressuring the Israeli government into their own hands if they want to see a just resolution to the conflict.