Palestinians turn to boycott of Israel in West Bank

By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 16, 2010

MAALEH ADUMIM, WEST BANK -- In Mishor Adumim, a bougainvillea-lined industrial zone inside this West Bank Jewish settlement, at least 17 businesses have closed since Palestinians began boycotting its products several months ago.

For the Israelis, it's "an insufferable situation," according to Avi Elkayam, who represents the settlement's 300 factory owners. But for Palestinians, it might be the strategy they have been looking for.

For more than 40 years, Palestinians have sought to end Israeli occupation and gain statehood. International terrorism, nearly two decades of negotiations and two major waves of mass revolt have not brought measurable progress toward those goals.

Now Palestinians are looking at the success of their boycott as evidence that a campaign focused on peaceful protest, rather than violent struggle, could finally yield results.

The strategy originated at the grass-roots level but has increasingly been embraced by the Palestinian leadership. Top officials have shown up at anti-settlement demonstrations led by local activists trying to isolate Israel globally in a campaign roughly modeled on the South African anti-apartheid struggle.

"We are definitely committed to a path of nonviolent resistance and defiance in the face of the settlement enterprise, and we are defiantly expressing our right to boycott those products and I believe it is working," Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who has attended bonfires of settlement products, said in an interview last week. "We will continue to do more."

But Fayyad represents only a portion of the Palestinian political spectrum. Members of the Islamist Hamas movement, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, have continued to advocate violence even as they rhetorically embrace the idea of boycotts and other forms of peaceful protest.

That has led some observers to wonder whether the experiment will deteriorate into another armed uprising, especially if new U.S.-mediated peace talks lead nowhere.

A Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the nonviolent-resistance campaign could backfire, hurting prospects for a breakthrough in negotiations. "All of these efforts are seen by the Israelis as an effort by the Palestinians to isolate Israel," the diplomat said. "One has to question whether this will be effective or whether it will push the Israeli government into a more reluctant mood."

Motives in question

The boycott, along with a forthcoming ban on Palestinian employment in the settlements, has already led Israeli officials to question publicly the motives of their Palestinian counterparts.

"Are they for partnership or struggle?" Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said at a news conference Monday. While Israel tries to ensure that Palestinians have jobs, he added, Palestinian officials "try to raise unemployment by stopping them from working."

Dealing in settlement goods has technically been illegal under Palestinian law since 2005, but Fayyad has pushed for enforcement only since the start of the year. The hope is that the boycott will encourage the international community to adopt a stronger stance against settlements while helping end the Palestinian economy's dependence on Israel.

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