Dear Mr. President,
I got a smartphone because it seemed like a good idea at the time. After owning it for a few weeks, I realized that my already troubling addiction to the internet was getting completely out of hand. I still haven't figured out a reasonable balance, or summoned the self-restraint to limit my usage. Despite my mixed feelings about this technology, I had to smile when I saw the story of the Israeli bloggers against illegal settlements who developed an app to let consumers find out if their purchases come from West Bank settlements.
President Abbas has already warned Israel that the negotiations will fall apart without the continuation of the settlement freeze. These Israeli bloggers are acting responsibly to demonstrate their objection to these illegal settlements by changing the way they spend their money (and by helping others to do the same.) I think a theme of my political philosophy, almost surely lifted shamelessly from your own writing, is that the way we spend our money reflects our values as individuals and as a society. The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaign against the Israeli occupation is an effective, non-violent strategy for expressing opposition to injustice. These same settlements are officially opposed by your administration. Economic sanctions have been used by the US to nonviolently oppose the human rights abuses of unjust regimes around the world. The US should officially adopt a policy making it illegal to import or purchase goods produced by Israeli West Bank settlements, or to provide material support to these settlements which are illegal under international law and a major roadblock to our stated foreign policy goal of a viable, sustainable peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
I was pretty reluctant to type that last sentence. Not because I don't believe it. Not because I don't think you already know it's the right thing to do. I think that if we are serious about our foreign policy goals we ought to write laws and spend our money in a way that reflects this. My reluctance comes from my general preference to leave that choice up to the consumer. I don't enjoy being told where I can and cannot spend my own money, and it isn't something I'd want to impose upon another person, no matter how convinced I am of the necessity of such an imposition. Unfortunately, the difficulty faced by the average consumer trying to determine the origins of their purchases is significant enough to prevent all but the most conscientious from doing so. Official policy is the only way to ensure that consumers are aware of what they are buying and what those purchases support. I call for such a policy without the faintest hope that the political will exists to implement it. Even encouraging consumers to makes this decision on their own would be an act of political suicide. But until your administration is prepared to do more than gently discourage settlement activity, it will continue and it will dismantle any hope of real peace for Palestinians and Israelis. For those of us who aren't willing to wait for our leaders to find the moral courage such a stand would require, well, at least now we've got an app for that.