As its name implies, the BDS movement advocates three policies: boycott, divestment and sanctions. The boycott campaign is aimed mainly at civil society, the divestment campaign at investors, pension funds and banks and the sanctions campaign at persuading governments to sanction other governments. The boycott campaign can be directed against Israeli settlements in the West Bank (the TUC has supported this policy since 2009 and the Co-op since 2013) or against companies that are complicit in the occupation of Palestine or against all Israeli products.
The Labour Party confirmed on December 13th that Jeremy Corbyn supports targeted action against illegal Israeli settlements. This would not be a boycott and nor would it be a temporary sanction to be lifted when certain conditions are met. It would be a statement of law – that we will permanently target trade with settlements that are illegal. The UK Government already in its business guidance to UK firms says it does not encourage trade with Israeli settlements and it has withdrawn the support of its embassies and consulates from UK businesses intending to trade with settlements.
Hopefully, Jeremy Corbyn will support a complete ban on trade with settlements, but it is worth remembering that what he proposes is different only in degree and not in kind from what the Government already does. The Government does not use the word ‘sanctions’ in this context, though it has used the word ‘disincentives’ which means much the same.
There are already many precedents for the imposition of sanctions on countries that conquer territory by military force. It took only 17 days for the UK to impose sanctions in the case of Crimea – from the date when unmarked Russian troops were first seen in Crimea till the European Council meeting when sanctions were imposed. It is now just over 50 years since the Israel conquered the West Bank by military force and started building illegal settlements.