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EU puts pressure on Israel for peace with Palestinians

Officials consider sanctions, boycotts if no deal reached

JERUSALEM — Could Israel face a mounting global boycott of the type that ended apartheid in South Africa if it fails to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians by this spring?

Some liberal Israeli commentators have been sounding such warnings, and the outgoing EU envoy to the Middle East said Thursday that support in Europe for sanctioning Israel over its settlement policies could gain steam if talks collapse.

Israeli officials have been downplaying any potential repercussions, and this week the European Union dangled unprecedented incentives before Israelis and Palestinians to nudge them toward a deal.

But Palestinian grass-roots activists and their foreign supporters say an international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel is gaining momentum.

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They point to recent successes, such as a decision this week by the American Studies Association, a group representing more than 3,800 US scholars, to boycott Israeli academic institutions, though not individual Israeli colleagues.

Some activists say the death of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela this month also invited comparisons between international antiapartheid boycotts two decades ago and similar efforts now to pressure Israel to end its occupation of lands the Palestinians want for their state.

Israeli government officials have either dismissed the boycott campaign as ineffective or portrayed it as an attempt with strong anti-Semitic overtones to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, denounced the boycott decision of the US scholars as a ‘‘travesty,’’ saying this week that ‘‘singling out of the Jewish state for boycott is no different than the many attempts throughout history to single out Jews and hold them to a different standard.’’

While talk of boycott has unleashed strong emotions in Israel, government officials have been watching Europe’s more strident stance on Israeli settlements with greater concern.

Some 550,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians want a state in those lands and say Israel’s settlement building, which only accelerated during the negotiations, is jeopardizing the talks and preempting their outcome.

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The EU has reiterated in recent months that it considers all settlements illegal and has taken steps to bring its actions more in line with its stated positions.

Europe has imposed a funding ban on Israeli research projects in the occupied territories that goes into effect next month.

This week, EU diplomats warned Israel against new settlement announcements, saying that if negotiations collapse as a result, Israel would be held accountable.

The US-led talks resumed in late July, after a five-year impasse, and are to last for at least nine months. On Wednesday, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat raised the possibility of an extension. He said that if the two sides reach a framework agreement on all main issues by the end of April, the Palestinians would be prepared negotiate for up to a year to work out the details.