What if the Boycotters Don't Isolate Israel?

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Here's a plausible scenario. Some would call it optimistic. The decision of Scandinavian investment funds to divest themselves from Israeli banks and companies working in the settlements, and the American and European warnings of international isolation sow panic among the government ministers.

Naftali Bennett continues to insist there is no threat to the Israeli economy and that no proud nation has ever relinquished its homeland for financial considerations. But most of his ministerial colleagues are worried that international corporations will start planning to relocate their research centers and production facilities from Israel. The startup nation is in danger.

Benjamin Netanyahu is forced to sign on to John Kerry's framework agreement and talks with the Palestinians suddenly become a lot more serious as the very real possibility of a deal to divide the land looms. The boycott threats are replaced by diplomatic optimism.

Now for the opposite scenario. Following the initial panic, Netanyahu and his ministers keep cool and play for time. Kerry tries to pressure, the Europeans threaten, another Belgian bank announces it won't invest and supermarket chains in Norway stop buying fruit and vegetables - but the storm passes. The Palestinians say no to Kerry while Netanyahu manages to get away with saying both yes and no.

Meanwhile events in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon attract the international media's attention. Suddenly, ending the Israel-Palestine conflict is not that urgent anymore. The economic damage to Israel was tiny, Microsoft, Intel, Google and all the other giants are still here and even though a few Europeans have left, new markets open up in the Far East where no-one has any moral quibbles. Bennett takes off in the polls and the peace process goes back into the deep-freeze for years. The occupation was never so comfortable.

Which scenario seems more likely? Hard to say.

In a period when every day brings another headline of a company, government or union stopping or restricting its investments in Israel and the Scarlett Johansson-SodaStream-Oxfam story is so irresistibly sexy to just about every news organization on the globe, the feeling that Israel can no longer avoid the steamroller is pervasive, but looking at the situation through a slightly wider lens, the fact remains that this is not yet a diplomatic or economic tsunami.

Despite everything, the new cooperation agreement with the European Union is going ahead, the companies which divested didn't have major investments in Israel to begin with and every day new deals are being announced, despite the murky atmosphere. The right-wing argument that we can continue ruling over another people, build settlements and enjoy a flourishing economy at the same time still holds.

Perhaps the big bang that will shatter the comfortable occupation illusion is just around the corner. But what if it isn't?

For 46 years we have been occupiers and not only have we gotten away with it, we have prospered. It could all be coming to an end, but the dire warnings of Israel becoming a pariah state, isolated, unable to find markets and investors have been issued so many times. If they fail to materialize this time around, if the government succeeds once again in averting diplomatic catastrophe and gaining more time, without making any real concessions or progress, they will sound all the more hollow.

Once the main argument of the leaders of Israel's peace camp and the proponents of a two-state solution was a moral one: Perpetuating our rule over another nation is wrong; it is corrupting a third generation of young Israelis, who accept the status quo as a normal and even as a desirable situation. The leading lights of the left cried out against the erosion of Jewish and democratic values inherent in our occupation of the ancient Jewish heartland populated by millions who do not want us there.

That narrative has been pushed to the sidelines and has been replaced now by a capitalist and self-centered campaign trying to play on the fears of individual Israelis that the occupation may harm their personal fortunes.

The center-left has abandoned the moral high-ground, leaving it to the right which can now claim that a nation does not abandon its homeland for financial interest. Yet another anomaly of Israeli politics - the left-wing now prefers money talk to values talk.

Even if the current assessment - that by clinging to the West Bank settlements Israel will bring upon itself diplomatic, economic and cultural isolation - is accurate, and that is far from clear, this must not be the main message of Israelis who continue to call for a just peace with the Palestinians. Facing the moral claims of the right, peaceniks must cling to their values, which are not all about money.

Our position has to remain that even if it turns out that the occupation is not ruining Israel's economy, and the world isn't really that interested in the Palestinians, our control and suppression of them are the antithesis of Zionism and Judaism and prevent us from developing as a democratic and moral society. Those who clamor for peace must continue to do so because the occupation is wrong for us and our neighbors, not because we may end up losing our savings from it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, April 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi