You’ve likely seen the videos by now: dozens of Palestinian families being forced out of their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli riot police storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Ramadan worshippers. Missiles fired by Israeli Air Force planes levelling entire high rise buildings in the Gaza Strip.
May marked the worst escalation in violence between Israelis and Palestinians in seven years. Beginning after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled Palestinians living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah could be legally evicted by their Israeli Jewish neighbors, protests in Sheikh Jarrah turned to violent retalitatory strikes that turned to the exchange of munitions between the Israeli military and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. All told, 283 Palestinians and 13 Israelis lay dead by the time both sides called a ceasefire on May 21.
Something must be done about the political situation in Israeli-occupied Palestine. If this May’s events — and the increasing global awareness of the apartheid conditions Palestinians live in — have taught us anything, it’s that the status quo will only result in the further persecution of the Palestinian people by an Israeli state seemingly bent on expelling them.
The question, though, is what?
It is trite by now to say that everyone disagrees about how to resolve Israeli-Palestinian politics. Some advocate a “two-state solution,” which would see Israel and its occupied Palestinian territories split into two states along ethnic lines. This perspective is no doubt the predominant one, in part because it is a project ostensibly already underway. In 1993 and 1995, Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed the Oslo Accords, which promised to steadily cede more political authority over Palestinian regions to Palestinian leaders ahead of them forming their own state.
But nearly 30 years later, Palestine is no closer to claiming its sovereignty. In the meantime, Israeli settlers have flooded the West Bank, further entrenching their presence in Palestinian territory. Increasingly, foreign policy experts around the world are recognizing that the two-state solution may be unrealistic.
“Many diplomats and analysts around the world I have spoken to in recent years understand that the two-state solution is dead. Israel has killed it,” wrote political analyst Yousef Munayyer in The New York Times. “The two-state peace process has acted as a convenient excuse for third parties who would rather pretend it presents a viable path to peace — no matter how clear its failures have been — than ever hold Israeli leaders to account.”
No doubt, the two-state solution’s inviability is due in large part to the unwillingness of the U.S. to take a harder stance on Israel, which it considers its closest and most valuable ally in the Middle East. Recent statements by the U.S. State Department defended Israel’s brutal retaliatory strikes against Gaza as exercising its “legitimate right to defend its people and its territory,” and urged “de-escalation on all sides.”
Little can be done to help Palestinians in Israel unless the U.S. government begins calling out human rights abuses as it sees them, and condemns the actions of Israel.
But as Munayyer writes, more and more people around the world are converging around a “one-state solution” that would see Israel and its Palestinian territories transformed into a single state united along national, not ethnic, lines.
Of course, this sort of change would require a monumental effort on the part of actors inside and outside Palestine alike. This raises the question: what can ordinary people do to resolve a conflict between nations half a world away?
To this we say — look to history. Just as American corporations, universities, and private citizens boycotted and divested from South African goods from the 1970s to ‘90s to pressure its government to end its apartheid policies, so too can we weaponize our consumption and allyship to pressure Israeli leadership.
The strategies leveraged by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has ended apartheid governments in the past. Now they can be used to end the persecution of the Palestinian people at the very least, and at best push Israel-Palestine toward genuine political change.