Non-Muslim countries recognize Israel’s legitimacy and maintain diplomatic relations with it, but most are critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and ongoing occupation of the West Bank. Global public opinion at present is generally more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, creating real concern among Israelis that an international boycott movement, called BDS, could pick up some support.
Eighty-three percent of the world’s countries, and almost every country that isn’t Arab or Muslim majority, recognizes Israel:
That being said, Israel is extremely unpopular worldwide. In one BBC poll of 22 countries, Israel was the fourth-most-disliked nation (behind only Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea).
It’s clear that West Bank settlements are a key cause of Israel’s poor global standing. Most of the world believes that Israel’s continued control of the West Bank is an unlawful military occupation, and that settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. Though this view is supported by most legal scholars, Israel and pro-Israel conservatives dispute it. They argue that the West Bank isn’t occupied, and even if it were, the Fourth Geneva convention only prohibits “forcible” population transfers, not voluntary settlement.
The BDS movement, which coalesced in 2005, aims to capitalize on international anger with Israel. The movement’s strategy is to create costs to Israel’s Palestinian policy through boycotts of Israeli goods and institutions, divestment from Israeli companies, and sanctions on the nation itself (hence the name BDS).
BDS plans to continue boycotting Israel until 1) all of the settlements are dismantled, 2) they believe Palestinians have been given equal rights inside Israel’s borders, and 3) Palestinians refugees are granted the “right of return,” which means to return to the land and homes they used to inhabit in what is now Israel.
That last goal has led BDS’s critics to label it a stealth movement to destroy Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. While BDS does not take an official position on Israel’s existence, the size of the Palestinian refugee population means that if it gets what it wants on the right of return, Palestinians could potentially outnumber Israelis, ending Israel’s status as a Jewish state and giving Palestinians the power to dismantle the Israeli state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a supporter of the two-state solution, opposes BDS. He, as well as a number of liberal Zionists such as the writer Peter Beinart, supports a boycott targeted only at goods made in the West Bank settlements.
As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drags on, many Israelis worry that BDS will become more mainstream. Former Secretary of State John Kerry warned that BDS could end up being a real problem for Israel if it fails to come to terms with the Palestinians.