The Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. military will hold a joint missile defense drill later this month. The U.S.-Israel relationship is so strong under President Barack Obama that we can be forgiven for taking it for granted. But we shouldn't. It hasn't always been this way.
President Obama also offered Israel a new 10-year aid package last week.
President Obama signed anti-BDS legislation. The president signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, which includes a provision requiring noncooperation with entities that participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. But the administration said that it does not support the provision that extends the legislation to "Israeli-controlled territories."
The argument in favor of the legislation as drafted and of including boycotts of goods manufactured in the West Bank is that those boycotts can hurt Israelis who live in Israel proper, both directly and indirectly, as well as Palestinians who live in the West Bank. Also, some West Bank settlements will be retained by Israel under any conceivable peace agreement. Why should we not oppose boycotts of goods made in parts of the West Bank that even proponents of a two-state solution on both sides know Israel will never give up?
Perhaps most important, the entire concept of using BDS as a tool to achieve a two-state solution makes no sense because pressure on Israel alone is counterproductive, and that includes pressure on settlements. This is a case of two peoples wanting the same land and needing to compromise. Israel cannot relinquish the West Bank without credible guarantees from the Palestinians that Israel will then live in peace and security. The way to a two-state solution is not one-sided pressure on Israel or microtargeting of goods manufactured in the West Bank, but constructive efforts to build trust on both sides and to promote confidence-building measures eventually allowing both sides to become comfortable taking the risks and making the compromises needed for peace.
Israelis are nervous about the peace process, and with good reason. BDS feeds into the right-wing narrative in Israel that the entire world is against Israel and therefore Israel must get its back up and not make any concessions. BDS makes peace less, not more, likely.
The argument against extending the legislation to the West Bank is that neither Israel nor the United States considers the West Bank part of Israel. Israel has not annexed the West Bank. No administration has recognized Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. This legislation does not legitimize Israel's control over the West Bank or change U.S. policy. But it could put the U.S. in the position of appearing to legitimize settlements, and as Gershom Gorenberg writes, "Insisting that there's no difference between Israel and the settlements doesn't legitimize settlements; it delegitimizes Israel."
Gorenberg argues: "The bill doesn't actually do anything to strengthen the long-established American policy of seeking to protect Israel from boycotts. Rather, it extends that policy to opposing boycotts of products from Israeli settlements in occupied territory. It thereby equates opposition to settlements with opposition to the State of Israel. Ironically, it strikes a position quite like that of the BDS movement: It leaves no room for a political stance of supporting Israel while opposing settlement and occupation."
I'm ambivalent. If I were in Congress, I would support provisions like this. But I would also understand why any administration that does not want to change 60 years of American policy toward the West Bank would not favor applying this law to "Israeli-controlled territories."
President Obama addressed the Illinois General Assembly. Lots of laughs and lots of truth. Read it or watch it. The President's speech inspired Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss to engage "in some pretty serious self-examination."