Harpo Jaeger dot com

The long haul: sustainable self-determination

Last Wednesday, J Street Western MA held a panel discussion following a screening of Budrus (which you should see) at a local movie theater. Almost 130 people stayed after the film for the discussion overall, quite a successful night. The discussion was moderated by Stephanie Levin, a member of the J Street Western MA steering committee, and the panelists were Melanie Harris and Ira Stup. A wide range of opinions were represented in the audience, including a sizeable number of HSJP and WMCP activists. I stuck around after the discussion and had an excellent conversation with some of them, which prompted me to do some serious thinking, both on the spot and afterwards.

One of the primary justifications for the BDS movement is the call by numerous Palestinian civil institutions for its use as a tactic to force the end of the occupation, the disassembly of the separation barrier, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The unanimity of this appeal is impressive and grants a great deal of legitimacy to the tactic and its supporters. It also has the effect of forcing opponents, or at least those who don’t fully embrace it (such as myself), to seriously consider the justification for their position. In other words, how can one engage in non-BDS-centered activism while still truly supporting Palestinian self-determination?

This is an important question, one that people like me need to pose to ourselves quite seriously. I thank the HSJP and WMCP folks who opened my eyes to a new standard by which I have to measure my own activism, and I hope that our continued efforts and dialogue push others to do the same. After a good deal of thought, I feel a renewed belief in J Street’s work, and although that probably wasn’t what the WMCPers had in mind, they should still be proud for pushing me to grapple with the topic. Here are my (now newly updated) thoughts on how J Street’s actions are consistent with the cause of Palestinian self-determination.

First, a working definition. Wikipedia defines self-determination as “…the principle in international law, that nations have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or external interference.” I’m going to assume we all agree that there’s no way Palestinians can be said to possess the right of self-determination currently. Therefore, the question remaining is: how do we deliver it to them as speedily and sustainably as possible? Here’s where the BDS movement and J Street differ (I generalize a wide range of opinion exists within both of these camps, often overlapping, but we’ll work with BDS’ core principals and J Street’s official position on BDS).

The BDS movement is based around the concept that standing in solidarity with Palestinians directly affirms their inherent right to self-determination. On this, I agree. The nonviolent resistance movement has gained legitimacy and power through the involvement of non-Palestinians, and we who believe in it should continue to raise our voices.

But ultimately, our mission is to create a political framework that will become a real and lasting State of Palestine, a state which by definition will be the exemplification of real and lasting Palestinian self-determination. By choosingnot to take a position on borders, security, one state vs. two states, or a host of other issues that are the building blocks of Middle East peace, the BDS movement sacrifices the ability to aid in accomplishing that mission. I’m not claiming that a movement must support a two-state solution in orderto support Palestinian self-determination, just that it must articulate some political mechanism by which that self-determination is to be preserved.

I too stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, but I struggle for a future where they don’t need my solidarity, a future where they can exercise their democratic rights without the help of international witnesses and activists, in a state of their own, in peace.