In a sign of the rising specter of BDS and its potential impact on Israel’s export driven economy (50% of its value is in exports), a group of 80 of the nation’s most important business leaders, met in closed session (Hebrew) sponsored by a peace group called Israel Initiates (website), to address their fears. The outline of the initiative roughly follows that of the 2002 Saudi peace plan. They agreed that if no political initiative was taken by Israel, the country’s financial stability was in grave danger. Though it wasn’t clear what specific political plan they were advancing, their call was clearly a criticism of the quiescence of the Netanyahu government:
We’re fast becoming like South Africa. The economic damage that will result from the boycott and sanctions will be felt by every Israeli family from the wealthy classes to the middle class and most harshly on the underclass.
These words were spoken by Eyal Ofer, son of the recently deceased Israeli billionaire Sami Ofer. The Ofer conglomerate is one of Israel’s largest and most profitable with strong alleged ties to Israel’s defense and intelligence apparatus. So a peace initiative originating from the Ofers must truly indicate a split of some sort among the Israeli far right political and military echelons and the more pragmatic elements. The passage above and what follows is a summary of an article in Calcalist, Israel’s leading business journal, on the meeting.
The attendees expressed their fears of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood by the UN General Assembly in September and the resulting political freeze to which Israel would be subjected as a result. Ofer believes that if nothing is done Israel’s legitimacy will be seriously eroded on the world stage. While businessmen don’t usually interpose themselves into the political process, said Ofer (quite naïvely or fatuously I might add), this is a situation that requires taking action to protect the Israeli economy. Israel faces a very real threat that its major businesses and industries will be devastated by the actions that might follow upon a declaration of Palestinian statehood:
“Therefore,” said Ofer, we must exploit every resource we have to call upon the State of Israel to initiate a political process which will prevent such a boycott [or literally, “excommunication”].
Ofer revealed to the assembled business leaders that international labor associations have with difficulty prevented the adoption of resolutions which would call for boycott of Israeli products and forbid the unloading of Israeli ships containing imports from Israel. Though such efforts have met mostly with success, the implication of Ofer’s words seemed to be that this success might not last for long, especially if the international outlook worsens.
Dan Gillerman, until recently Bibi’s UN ambassador told the assembled multitude that the day after the UN vote recognizing Palestine a process of “South Africanization” (how’s that for a political neologism?) of the State of Israel would begin. He warned that the economic success enjoyed by the country today could easily explode in the aftermath of such a UN vote. Gillerman claimed he’d received assurances from senior Palestinian officials that they preferred a genuine peace process to a unilateral approach. Which means that a genuine peace initiative is demanded of the current Israeli prime minister [as opposed to the shame current policy] which would avert such a catastrophe.
Ofer told Calcalist that he wanted to remind the government that those in attendance at this session employed hundreds of thousands of Israelis and that their voice should be heeded. That seemed a shot across Bibi’s bow for sure.
The initiative as outlined by Ofer and his co-founder, former Shin Bet director Yaakov Perry, focussed on the exchange of territory involved in a return to 1967 borders. It proposed that some of the holy places would come under Israeli sovereignty and some under UN sovereignty. The ultimate goal is to turn the Initiative into a social movement that goes beyond the business leaders featured and becomes more widely rooted like the Geneva Initiative. Last month, representatives of the group met with the secretary-general of the Arab League and Egypt’s foreign minister to relay to them the substance of their initiative.