Just recently, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Netherlands’ largest pension fund management company, PGGM, “has decided to withdraw all its investments from Israel’s five largest banks because they have branches in the West Bank and/or are involved in financing construction in the settlements.” And The Jerusalem Post reported that Danske Bank, Denmark’s largest bank, has decided to boycott Israel’s Bank Hapoalim for “legal and ethical” reasons related to its operating in the settlements.
This Third Intifada, in my view, has much more potential to have a long-term effect because, unlike the first two, it is coinciding with the offer from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as part of a two-state deal, to let Israeli troops stay for five years as they make a phased withdrawal from the West Bank to the 1967 lines and to then let U.S.-led NATO forces fill in any strategic void to reassure Israel. To put it differently, the Third Intifada is based on a strategy of making Israelis feel strategically secure but morally insecure.
This Third Intifada is also gaining strength because of the passing from the scene of two key leaders: Nelson Mandela and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. For Israel, Ahmadinejad was the gift who kept on giving: an Iranian president who denied the Holocaust and rebuffed global efforts to get Iran to stop building a nuclear bomb. He was hard to love. The replacement of Ahmadinejad by the negotiation-friendly, Holocaust-recognizing Hassan Rouhani is much more problematic for Israel. But my gut also tells me that the death of Mandela has left many of his followers looking for ways to honor his legacy and carry on his work. On some college campuses, they’ve found it: boycotting Israel until it ends the West Bank occupation.
Israelis are right to suspect some boycotters of using this cause as a cover for anti-Semitism, given how Israel’s misdeeds are singled out. But that doesn’t mean that implanting 350,000 settlers in the West Bank and turning a blind eye to dozens of wildcat settlements — that even Israel deems “illegal” — is in Israel’s interest or smart.
If Israel really wanted to slow down the boycott campaign, it would declare that as long as Kerry is trying to forge a deal, and there is hope for success, Israel will freeze all settlement activity to give peace its best chance. Unlikely, I know. But one thing I know for sure: This incessant trashing of Kerry by Israeli ministers, and their demand that Palestinians halt all “incitement” — but that Israel be free to keep building settlements in their face — is not winning Israel friends in Europe or America. It is only energizing the boycotters.