SodaStream and the Two Competing Visions for the West Bank

Last week Pepsi announced its plans to purchase the Israeli company SodaStream, the well-known manufacturer of devices for making carbonated beverages at home, for the impressive sum of $3.2 billion. Clifford May notes what the purchase implies about the failures of the movement to boycott the Jewish state, which has long had SodaStream in its sights, and that movement’s success in hurting Palestinians.

[SodaStream’s] CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, is an Israeli entrepreneur and visionary who came up with a wild idea: open a factory on the West Bank and hire Palestinians. Give them “Israeli wages” which are about four-times higher than the average in the territories. Provide them and their extended families with medical insurance, a benefit few employers in the West Bank provide. . . . By 2014, with more than 500 workers, SodaStream was among the largest private employers on the West Bank.

Unsurprisingly, champions of the Palestinian cause denounced Birnbaum as anti-Palestinian. In particular, advocates for BDS (the campaign to de-legitimize and demonize Israel through boycotts, divestments, and sanctions) accused him of stealing Palestinian land, profiting from the “occupation,” and exploiting Palestinian workers. . . . BDS lobbyists were particularly effective in Europe. For example, they persuaded retailers in Sweden to ask Mr. Birnbaum not to send them SodaStream products from the West Bank. . . .

When Birnbaum needed a new and bigger factory, he [therefore] decided not to build in the West Bank but instead to relocate to the Negev desert. . . . The new factory employs 1,400 Bedouin, many of whom have never before had regular jobs with regular paychecks. BDS [activists] began attacking Birnbaum again, this time accusing him of exploiting the Bedouins. The local Bedouin sheikh told them to pound sand.

The news of Pepsi’s purchase of SodaStream makes one thing abundantly clear: while the BDS campaign managed to deprive Palestinians of good jobs, it failed to prevent the company that had provided those jobs from becoming an enormous international success.

In this topsy-turvy world, if you’d like to see Palestinians living in peace, gainfully employed, with access to quality medical care and reason to believe tomorrow will be brighter than today, you’re denounced as anti-Palestinian. If, by contrast, you prefer that Palestinians remain impoverished and on the dole of America and other “donor nations,” hating their next-door neighbor and bequeathing that hatred to their children, viewing themselves as victims while aspiring to “martyrdom” in an endless war, you get to call yourself a champion of the Palestinian cause.

Read more at Washington Times

More about: BDS, Bedouin, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, West Bank


Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood