The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) seems to have reached a tipping point in which it can no longer be considered a marginal player. A growing number of prominent celebrates, artist, scientist, academic institutions, and business organizations have given their name to the cause. If this point wasn’t clear enough, US Secretary of State John Kerry recently warned that if Israel does not make significant progress in the latest round of peace talks, they can expect to face ever increasing calls for economic and cultural isolation (an idea echoed by Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister). Not liking the idea of a sword of damocles hanging over their side of the negotiation table, Israeli politicians and pundits fired back that Kerry’s words are unacceptable and exaggerated scare tactics.
My take: BDS is a logical product of frustration, failure, fatigue and fear (i like alliterations). A barren diplomatic process.. It’s not a historical coincidence that the movement officially emerged the same year as Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Both were based on the premise that there is no serious partner and that change can only come through unilateral actions. A type of Do-It-Yourself Conflict Resolution. Problem is that in an interdependent relationship, even in an asymmetrical conflict, you can’t cut the other person out of the equation and force a sustainable solution (tailored to your interests) upon them. It’s just not that easy. In the words Nelson Mandela “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Having said that, I think that BDS can have both a constructive and destructive impact on the conflict. From a two-state perspective, BDS can function as a gadfly that constantly bugs and occasionally bites. By calling for a radical solution to the conflict while at the same time picking up momentum, the movement could influence policymakers in Israel towards greater pragmatism and compromise (considering the alternative). This is the way Secretary Kerry was hoping to leverage the movement.
On the other hand, with its mantle of un-pragmatic righteousness and all-out ideological assault on Zionism, the BDS movement could also reinforce and multiply ultra-nationalistic and hawkish forces within Israeli society. These are people who perceive the world as innately hostile to the Jewish state and will do whatever it takes to protect their tribe. Such a prospect will make a two-state solution even less likely. Although these possible reactions are not mutually exclusive, in a political system like Israel the smart shekel is on the latter.