Small Wars Journal

Ideas Imprisoned - Part IV: Rethinking the International Approach

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Ideas Imprisoned - Part IV: Rethinking the International Approach

J. David Thompson

SWJ Note - This is a multipart series exploring administrative detention in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

Ideas Imprisoned: Administrative Detention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Conditions of Imprisonment, and the Role of the International Community (Introduction to 5 Parts)

Ideas Imprisoned - Part I: Administrative Detention

Ideas Imprisoned - Part II: Conditions of Imprisonment

Ideas Imprisoned - Part III: International Legal Norms

The international community has largely failed to exert much influence over the Government of Israel in persuading the government to change behavior. To begin to count how many resolutions nations and the United Nations made against the State of Israel would be a monumental task. To then try to find a measure of the effect of those declarations and sanctions would be an even more challenging pursuit. Traditional diplomatic influencing techniques have also been largely ineffective as Prime Minister Netanyahu continues expansion into the West Bank.[i] [ii] The UPR fails to exert much influence as nothing binds the Government of Israel to “Accept” any recommendation that it does not favor—accepting only two of fourteen recommendations on administrative detention and zero of fifteen on child imprisonment.[iii] [iv]  Despite these recommendations in the UPR and declarations from the UN, the State of Israel, for example, is a global leader in start-ups, particularly in the technology industry.[v] In a region plagued by instability, the State of Israel remains stable with a healthy economy, leading healthcare industry, and strong military. Given how ineffective traditional diplomatic influence techniques have been, perhaps it is time to reconsider a new approach. 

The international community’s manner of exerting influence over the Government of Israel has only changed in degree, not design, since Israel’s inception. This process failed to achieve significant results in these seventy-two years. As such, the international community must re-examine its methods and consider alternative approaches. This is not to say that the international community should refrain from traditional forms of diplomatic pressure and international law. The international community should aspire to seek changes in behavior through the various tools that it possesses—both carrots and sticks. This includes clearly stating and promoting values and practices that are in accordance with human rights standards. Those with a voice should speak out for those without. The international community should, however, also invest its time and resources in methods that produce results.

A coalition of more than twenty-five civil society organizations launched the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement in 2005.[vi] [vii] The stated demands of the BDS movement are to use non-violent pressure on the Government of Israel to: (1) end Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall, (2) recognize the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and (3) to respect, protect, and promote the rights of return for Palestinian refugees.[viii] Notably, the goals of the BDS movement go well beyond ending administrative detention or improving conditions for the imprisoned.

BDS achieved some tactical victories. The movement gained notoriety across many college campuses, some organizations severed ties with the State of Israel, and key figures skipped conferences inside the country of Israel.[ix] Notably absent from this list of successes, though, is any desired change in behavior by the Government of Israel. If the measure of a movement’s success were popularity, then BDS would be very successful. If, however, one defines success by achieving or progressing towards its stated objectives, then BDS failed. These tactical victories have about as much force as the declarations by countries around the world and the United Nations.

What is important to realize is that when one talks of BDS, one really only looks at one segment of economic statecraft (also commonly called “geoeconomics”). Geoeconomics is “the use of economic instruments to promote and defend national interests, and to produce beneficial geopolitical results; and the effects of other nations’ economics actions on a country’s geopolitical goals.”[x] One should describe and evaluate economic statecraft with the same cognitive discourse used to analyze any other form of statecraft.[xi] With this in mind, countries and organizations must look beyond tactical victories and look towards producing actual results.

If one takes BDS to its logical end, where individuals, organizations, and even countries have no economic relations with the State of Israel, and the Government of Israel fails to meet the demands of BDS, then the movement is out of alternatives short of armed conflict. The only option is to return to the pre-movement grounds, where nations maintained varying degrees of economic relations with the State of Israel. The Government of Israel would have little or no incentive to comply with the demands because it weathered the worst that the movement could offer. The BDS movement further limits any ability to gain influence by severing all ties with the Government of Israel.

An alternative idea is to expand economic ties with the private sector inside the oPt through more—not less—trade and investment policies. Individuals and companies can promote start-ups and mentorship inside the oPt. The logic of BDS is basically negative-sum—where organizations deprive themselves of the benefit that the State of Israel provides and the State of Israel loses the benefit from these organizations. The logic of geopolitics is typically zero-sum.[xii] This alternative approach is positive-sum—where organizations benefit from the markets, innovation, and resources in the State of Israel and the State of Israel receives the benefit these organizations provide.[xiii]

There is much opportunity for growth. The emerging Palestinian technology sector can hardly keep pace with international growth in the same sector.[xiv] Approximately 2,500 Palestinians receive degrees in information technology every year; however, because of the slow growth, the majority of these graduates must either change professions or leave the oPt.[xv] Each year, technology sector jobs in the oPt add $190,000 economic output, compared to an average of $16,000 in other sectors.[xvi] Inside the oPt, tech-sector jobs offer an average income of $29,000, which is almost five times larger than other jobs which average approximately $6,000 in income.[xvii] Comparatively, inside Israel, tech start-ups helped increase the per capita GDP from $6,000 in the mid-1980s to $36,000 today.[xviii] Undoubtedly, growth in the technology sector helped spur the economy of Israel to increase the standard of living for many Israelis. Expansion should not be limited to just the technological sector, but this shows one area where opportunity exists.

Increased trade policies and expanded investment policies—whether through the private or public sectors—will hardly be enough, alone, to influence the Government of Israel to change its practice of administrative detention. They do provide opportunities for dialogue, force collaboration, and promote mutually beneficial policies through shared interests, though. “Economics as a separate science is unrealistic, and misleading if taken as guide in practice. It is one element . . . in a wider study, the science of power.”[xix] When trying to change policies, withdrawing and severing ties limits the ability to exert much influence.

Finding common ground in one area provides a starting point to expand and find common ground elsewhere. As the private sector expands into the occupied territory, it provides an opportunity for national and international values to spread. With greater ties and interdependence comes the opportunity to expand influence to promote values. Economic development gives communities in the oPt the opportunity to use their human capital. Economic development further helps increase the standard of living for people residing in the oPt.

Growth and investment inside the oPt requires some legal and policy changes by the State of Israel. The economic development should be Palestinian driven as to not promote a war crime of population resettlement. A full review of the required changes from both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority exceeds the scope of this paper but failing to mention them would be to over-simplify important areas that must be addressed.

Rethinking how the international community—States and individuals alike—seeks to gain influence, though, requires interested parties to seek policies that may actually work. Expanding private sector influence in the oPt alone will not change the Government of Israel’s position, but failing to find common ground and facilitating dialogue means that the government’s position will not change.

End Notes


[i] Ian Fisher and Isabel Kershner. Israel Defiantly Cranks West Bank Settlement Plans into High Gear. N.Y. Times, Feb. 1, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/world/middleeast/israel-3000-homes-west-bank.html.

[ii] Jodi Rudoren and Jeremy Ashkenas, Netanyahu and Settlements. N.Y. Times, (Mar. 12, 2015), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/03/12/world/middleeast/netanyahu-west-bank-settlements-israel-election.html.

[iii] When I originally wrote this, Israel was about to undergo its 3rd cycle under the UPR. The information stated does not include the numbers from the 3rd cycle.

[v] Dan Senor & Saul Singer, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, (2011).

[vi] Charles Tripp, The Power of the People: Paths of Resistance in the Middle East 125 (2012). https://books.google.com/books?id=zrGO6R7pMnsC&pg=PA125#v=onepage&q&f=false.

[vii] According to the BDS website, 170 total organization called for the movement. https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds.

[viii] What is BDS? https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds (last visited Feb. 2018).

[ix] Impact, https://bdsmovement.net/impact (last visited Feb. 2018).

[x] Robert Blackwill & Jennifer Harris. War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft. Pg. 20.

[xi] David Baldwin. Economic Statecraft. Pg. 15-16.

[xii] Supra War by Other Means. pg. 24.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Yadin Kaufmann, Start-up Palestine: How to Spark a West Bank Tech Boom, 96 Foreign Aff. 113, 123 (2017).

[xv] Id.

[xvi] Id at 114.

[xvii] Id.

[xviii] Id at 115.

[xix] Russell Bertrand, Power: A new Social Analysis Pg. 138 (1938).

Categories: Israel

About the Author(s)

J. David Thompson is a Civil Affairs Major. He has a Juris Doctorate from Washington Lee School of Law. He also holds a BS in Economics and MBA-Leadership from Liberty University. Outside the military, he's worked at the UN Refugee Agency, Department of Defense, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. Follow him on Twitter @jdthompson910