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Published on September 19th, 2015 | by Mitchell Plitnick

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Iceland’s Boycott of Israel: Update

by Mitchell Plitnick

The city of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, modified its position today on a boycott of Israel, deciding instead only to boycott products from the Occupied Territories.

The outcome, however, does have an unfortunate side effect: it will be perceived as a tacit acknowledgment that a boycott of Israel over the occupation is, indeed, an act of antisemitism. The hysterical reaction of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and the entirely inappropriate call by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (an institution which shames Wiesenthal’s name on a daily basis with their consistent practice of labelling any and all criticism of Israel as antisemitism) for Jews not to go to Reykjavík, will now appear to have been effective.That is a much more politically sensible decision and a smart one for Reykjavík. The initial boycott was going to complicate Iceland’s foreign policy, as it is not the national policy to boycott all of Israel. Indeed, Iceland has no specific policy about how to respond to the occupation, nor does it have one regarding economic actions against Israel.

Maybe that hysterical overreaction was the reason for the shift in Reykjavík’s policy. However, the more likely reason is that the initial boycott call was inconsistent with Iceland’s policies, and the objections of the Icelandic government and Reykjavík’s mayor made the city council reconsider. Iceland is a small country and Reykjavík is really its only major city, so its decisions on such matters bear more weight in Iceland than a city in, say, the United States would.

What would be most helpful would be for Iceland to declare a boycott of products from the Occupied Territories as well, and to do so while clearly rebuking Reykjavík’s original resolution. As with Reykjavík’s boycott call, any such decision will have virtually no real economic impact. Israeli imports to Iceland in 2014amounted to about $4 million. Even that would mean little to Israel’s economy, and a settlement boycott would affect only a tiny fraction of that total.

But politically, Iceland could be leading a path toward a more widespread statement that the world is fed up with the occupation and Israel’s intransigence. If there is to be any resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, whatever that resolution may end up being, it has to start with facing reality.

That reality is a very simple one, yet it is one that the entire history of peacemaking, especially the twenty years of the Oslo Accords, has denied. Put simply, the myth that peace can only be achieved through “negotiations between the parties” is a fiction. Israel, like any other country, does not compromise out of the goodness of its heart. It does so for the same reason all countries do, because it is in its interest to do so. But with the violence of the occupation considerably diminished in recent years, the economic costs of administering the Territories largely absorbed by Europe, the United States and some Arab states, and the diplomatic and political costs shielded by the United States, Israel has little reason to settle for less than its ideal terms.

That is what has to change. The world must begin taking actions that change the playing field so that Israel has a reason to compromise. No doubt, achieving peace is not so simple a process. Much will have to change not only in the Israeli polity but also in the Palestinian one. The petty bickering between Fatah and Hamas, the comfortable position the occupation has provided to too many Palestinian “leaders” and the lack of a legitimate political leadership must all be addressed as well. And even then, finding a deal both sides can live with will be no easy task.

But the ingredients are there: the Clinton Parameters, the Arab Peace Initiative, the Roadmap, the Geneva Initiative, all of these offer helpful guidelines and starting points. But none of it can move forward until Israel does not believe that “managing” the occupation is a viable alternative. Right now, most of Israel believes it is.

Iceland has an opportunity here to take a small step in steering the international community away from its unhelpful stances to a more productive one. It won’t happen through a blanket boycott of Israel, but it can start with a boycott of the settlements. Reykjavík started something that was unlikely to help. Now, the Icelandic government has a choice between allowing Reykjavík’s mis-step to make the situation worse, or to capitalize on it and make it a little better. One can only hope they choose the right course.

Republished with permission from mitchellplitnick.com


About the Author

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Mitchell Plitnick is vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He is the former director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and was previously the director of education and policy for Jewish Voice for Peace. He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. Born in New York City, raised an Orthodox Jew and educated in Yeshiva, Mitchell grew up in an extremist environment that passionately supported the radical Israeli settler movement. His writing has appeared in the Jordan Times, Israel Insider, UN Observer, Middle East Report, Global Dialogue, San Francisco Chronicle, Die Blaetter Fuer Deutsche Und Internationale Politik, Outlook, and in a regular column for a time in Tikkun Magazine. He has been interviewed by various outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor and CNBC Asia. Plitnick graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and wrote his thesis on Israeli and Jewish historiography and earned his Masters Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park's School of Public Policy.



3 Responses to Iceland’s Boycott of Israel: Update

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  1. avatar edding says:

    There is no uncomplicated solution to any of this. The settlements, which the UN has repeatedly condemned as a violation of international law, are part and parcel of the Israeli Government’s policy for dealing with the Occupied territories. That being the case, it would not be inappropriate to apply BDS to the source of the problem- unless, of course, one agrees that the settlements, and the land grab, ethnic cleansing and apartheid that are required to facilitate them- and the UN and international law- should be ignored.

  2. avatar Fred says:

    I agree with edding. It’s the Israeli govt. that builds the settlements. ALL Israeli products need to be boycotted.

  3. avatar MostafaviHassan says:

    Israel must be pressed to accept a legal and logical peace. Giving Israel all sorts of political and economic support by the US ,Europe and all western influenced countries does not help. As Mr. Plitnick puts it very rightly ” the economic costs of administering the Territories largely absorbed by Europe, the United States and some Arab states, and the diplomatic and political costs shielded by the United States, Israel has little reason to settle for less than its ideal terms.” The world , specially the US and Europe must put Israel under proper pressure instead of occasional smiling lip service!!…”The world must begin taking actions that change the playing field so that Israel has a reason to compromise. The world must begin taking actions that change the playing field so that Israel has a reason to compromise.”
    If big powers decide…”the ingredients are there: the Clinton Parameters, the Arab Peace Initiative, the Roadmap, the Geneva Initiative, all of these offer helpful guidelines and starting points. But none of it can move forward until Israel does not believe that “managing” the occupation is a viable alternative. Right now, most of Israel believes it is.”

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