I strongly oppose Naomi Klein’s proposal to begin boycotts and divestment initiatives against Israel, similar to the approach used against South Africa in the apartheid era [“Lookout,” Jan. 26]. Klein anticipates four objections to her proposal and offers responses. But her list ignores the most important and obvious objection: it is entirely one-sided both in blaming Israel for the horrible cycle of violence in the region and in meting out punishment.
I agree entirely that the Israeli occupation is brutal. But Hamas is also brutal. To date, the only thing preventing Hamas from being less lethal than Israel in the damage it inflicts is its limited resources. Hamas is deliberately firing rockets into Israel with the aim of killing and terrorizing civilians. Should Iran, for example, succeed in supplying Hamas with more effective weapons, Hamas will become more successful in killing and terrorizing Israeli citizens. Rockets are beginning to land only twenty miles south of Tel Aviv.
The toll on Palestinian civilians of the current Israeli attack on Gaza is horrible. But let’s also recognize that Hamas is deliberately using civilians as human shields. The bomb that hit the home of Hamas leader Nazar Rayyan in Jabaliya tragically killed his wives and children as well as himself. Why was Rayyan exposing his family to such danger?
I agree with Klein that economic levers probably have the best chance of dramatically shifting the status quo (even while, given the history and emotions involved, economic initiatives could never offer a sufficient solution on their own). But instead of a one-sided boycott to punish Israel, why not pursue a positive agenda of economic development that would benefit both sides? Consider, for example, a development aid package on the order of $10 billion, spread over two to four years, with funds supplied on an equitable basis from the United States, the European Union and the Arab oil-exporting countries. This amount would be enough to: (1) undertake a massive infrastructure investment and job creation program in Gaza and the West Bank to help create an economically viable Palestinian state; and (2) comfortably resettle the roughly half-million Israelis now living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and turn over these communities and homes to Palestinians. This second initiative would entail a large-scale home-building, community infrastructure and job-creation program in Israel, perhaps concentrated in the less well-developed northern and southern regions.
The amount of money I’m suggesting seems large, of course. But $10 billion is only about 7 percent of what the United States spent in Iraq in 2007 and 5 percent of Saudi Arabia’s $194 billion in oil revenues in 2008. In short, the amount is modest in comparison with the opportunities it will create to contribute to an equitable and lasting peace in the region.
ROBERT POLLIN, co-director,
Political Economy Research Institute
University of Massachusetts