Like most of my neighbors, I am a Palestinian who hungers for peace. United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, has recently proposed a new Israeli/Palestinian peace initiative and I want his efforts to succeed. But do I think they will? Unfortunately, like most Palestinians, I have very little hope that real peace will be a welcome passenger on a US-made peace wagon. All it takes is a look back at the last 25 years of US-led Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations to see why I’m skeptical. In the last 25 years Palestinians have watched as one peace wagon after the other started with fanfare and ended in disappointment and disaster. Not one of the peace wagons has managed to deliver its promised goods. However in each round of negotiations, the wagon picked up a load of Palestinian concessions and delivered them to the Israelis. Again and again Palestinians and the millions who desire peace all over the world have been cheated in their efforts at peace by those who successfully and deviously derail each new initiative and who consider it a triumph to thwart possible attempts to resolve the conflict. A recent case in point: after Kerry announced the launching of his initiative, the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the construction of new settlements in the West Bank. This action, so typical of measures carried out in previous peace initiatives, is like the raising of a sledge hammer to cripple the peace wagon before it starts the journey.
Despite these latest negative actions taken by the Israeli government, my hunger for peace leads me to encourage Kerry’s efforts. I work to check my cynicism and pessimism, not wanting them to count among the reasons why this round of peace negotiations may fail. I’ll play the fool for the sake of encouraging the peace process rather than the savvy prophet who predicts the doom of the negotiations. Yes, I could draw from both ancient and modern history to make a list of all the reasons why this round of negotiations is bound to fail. Instead, I am determined that even if there is less than 1% chance that the negotiations will succeed, I will stand in support of them. I’m not so naive as to assume there will not be another disappointment — and yet I hang on to the thin hope for possible success. I do this,simply, because my people and I want peace.
Who stands with me? And how can we, who are devoted to peace and yet aware of all the obstacles, support Kerry’s initiative? Allow me to offer a suggestion. The best way to shore up the peace wagon is by supporting the world-wide BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). Let us unite in sending a message to the Israeli authorities that negotiations with the Palestinians will not put an end to BDS efforts, but rather that BDS efforts will intensify as long as Israel uses the negotiations to buy time while resuming the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. As the BDS campaign continues and gains momentum while negotiations are going on, surely it will influence the Israelis to resume negotiating with greater sincerity and flexibility. Moreover, as the BDS campaign gains momentum during the negotiations, the Israeli government will recognize that it will face greater sanctions, boycotts and isolation if Israeli leaders cause the negotiations to fail. In the future, sanctions may not target only the settlements in the West Bank, but may extend to all Israeli economic and cultural interests.
Let us not suffocate Kerry’s initiative with righteous skepticism and rational cynicism. Instead, let’s, exert pressure and influence where we can to give Kerry’s initiative, along with mounting sanctions, the momentum he needs to lead the path, finally and truly, to a negotiated peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
The author, Alex Awad, is Dean of Students at Bethlehem Bible College serving with the United Methodist Church in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem.