Norman Finkelstein on BDS, Palestinian rights, and the ‘destruction of Israel’

IOA Editor – 5 March 2012

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As regular readers already know, the IOA does not advocate a specific solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (e.g., one-state vs. two-state) or endorses a particular group or viewpoint. From its inception, the IOA‘s focal point has been a steadfast opposition to the Israeli Occupation and support for an equitable solution for all Palestinians – a people’s basic right to self-determination.

Norman Finkelstein’s recent interview with Frank Barat caused quite a commotion among Palestinian-rights activists and their supporters. And rightly so.

One of the reactions to Finkelstein, by Ali Abunimah, was re-published on the IOA: Firstly, because Abunimah breaks away from the one-state advocacy, if only as a theoretical exercise, and counters Finkelstein’s points from Finkelstein’s own two-state approach. At the very least, this makes for an interesting case. More importantly, I think, it was Finkelstein’s own words which required a response.

Norman Finkelstein has made enormous contributions to the struggle against the 1967 Israeli occupation, and for Palestinian rights. Unfortunately, this most recent interview is not one of them. Arguing in favor of a pragmatic, ‘real-world’ approach, which focuses on making a meaningful impact on mainstream public opinion, is indeed crucial. The same holds for dealing with potential political allies in an inclusive manner. Attacking one’s would-be partners in struggle and describing them as a ‘cult’ is the opposite of inclusiveness.

Both BDS and the reliance on international law are essential tools in the struggle for Palestinian rights — tools, not goals. This writer did not hesitate criticizing specific BDS actions as ineffective (and received quite a reaction in return). It is crucial that all of us are able to evaluate the merits, assess the effectiveness, or criticize BDS actions. And there should be plenty of room for tactical disagreements on the merits of specific actions. But throwing the baby with the bathwater is wrong and counterproductive, no matter how angry or impatient one is.

BDS is, and will remain, an essential strategic tool in the struggle for Palestinian rights. The best confirmation of this assessment can be found in Israel, and in its considerable legal investment in the war against BDS. If carried out wisely, BDS has a tremendous potential to very effectively pressure Israel.

Finkelstein’s treatment of Palestinian rights reflects the limitations of relying exclusively on international law in the defense of and struggle for Palestinian rights. Rather than forcing 100 years of history and a national liberation struggle into a legal brief, Finkelstein will do well to reconsider the implications of his focus on the “destruction of Israel” — a regional nuclear superpower — presumably by BDS activists, rather than focusing on 1948 Palestinian refugee rights and those of Palestinian citizens of Israel. As he must know, most Palestinians do not compartmentalize their national history as he appears to be doing.

As an alternative to Finkelstein’s geopolitical surgery, which removes the 1967 occupation from its historical context, consider Rashid Khalidi’s holistic discussion of a possible resolution of the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the occupation of 1967, the conquests of 1948 and Palestinian refugee rights, and the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel — components which, rightly, he views as inseparable.  Khalidi very openly refers to the two-state solution as a ‘way-station’ towards a comprehensive solution — all this in an interview with an Israeli newspaper.

Rather than the “destruction of Israel,” it is the restoration of rights and the righting of violent historical wrongs we should be focusing on as the basis for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an end to the Occupation. This is both just and valid, even if it doesn’t fit neatly into an international legal brief.

Norman Finkelstein is welcome to add to the discussion on these pages.

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