Peace makers promote peace, not boycotts

The international community should disabuse those Palestinians promoting boycotts of the idea that they can avoid these compromises. By failing to take that stand against the boycott campaign, professor Hawking has done nothing for the cause of peace. If anything, by encouraging behaviour that entrenches the conflict, he has set it back.

Dr Toby Greene is director of research at BICOM

Two weeks ago I attended the annual policy conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Israel’s premier strategic think tank based at Tel Aviv University. On the panel, Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub exchanged views on how to reach a two state solution, in fluent Hebrew, with Israeli academics, current senior Israeli officials, and retired senior IDF officers.

If a leading elected Fatah official feels it appropriate to participate in a conference on Israeli security, at an Israeli university, hosted by retired IDF generals, it surely makes no sense that Professor Hawking should boycott a conference on human interaction hosted by Nobel peace prize winner Shimon Peres. So what explains this strange discrepancy?

Apparently professor Hawking was persuaded to take this action by Palestinian academics. No doubt they convinced him that this was the only way they could put pressure on Israel and secure their human rights. If so he was misled. The reality is that many of those promoting the boycott are not interested in achieving their rights through a peaceful two state solution, but mistakenly believe a greater goal is attainable for the Palestinian people: international isolation of Israel which leads to a single Arab majority state.

Negotiate for peace

To justify their rejection of negotiations, they claim that talking doesn’t lead anywhere. This is not the case. We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accords. This agreement, the single most significant breakthrough to date in efforts to create peace between Israelis and Palestinians, came about as the result of unofficial meetings held between PLO officials and Israeli academics. It was these contacts which laid the groundwork for mutual recognition between the PLO and the State of Israel, and the creation of a self-governing Palestinian Authority. Since then Israeli and Palestinian leaders have twice attempted to address the final status issues and forge a final status agreement. On both occasions, in 2000 and in 2008, the talks led to very progressive Israeli proposals, which were not taken up by the Palestinian side.

Rather than not leading anywhere, negotiations have repeatedly led the Palestinians to a point where they must face up to the compromises required for a peaceful two state agreement. It is precisely these compromises that those promoting boycotts, and opposing dialogue and negotiations, apparently want to avoid.

Legitimate concerns on both sides

Professor Hawking should have listened instead to moderate Israelis and Palestinians like those active in the Bereaved Families Forum or One Voice, whose plea to the rest of the world is not take sides, but to understand that Israelis and Palestinians both have legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.

By not coming to Israel, professor Hawking has denied Israelis the opportunity to hear his views directly, and denied himself the opportunity to hear the Israeli side of the story. Most Israelis would like to end the situation in which they control the lives of so many Palestinians. This is why a large majority support in principle the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, a position that has been held by every Israeli government since 1999. But Israelis will not accept this without Israeli demands on security, and the future of Israel’s status as the national home of the Jewish people, also being met.

The international community should disabuse those Palestinians promoting boycotts of the idea that they can avoid these compromises. By failing to take that stand against the boycott campaign, professor Hawking has done nothing for the cause of peace. If anything, by encouraging behaviour that entrenches the conflict, he has set it back.

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