Cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian academics since the 1993 Oslo peace agreement (see Nature 417, 209–210; 2002) has been primarily donor-led — that is, imposed or strongly encouraged via the carrot of money in a money-starved environment, with the underlying assumption that such cooperation would assist the peace process.
This push for “Israeli–Palestinian scientific cooperation”, as if science were divorced from society, was regarded by many Palestinian academics as suspect. Most Palestinians opposed a basically unjust and non-sustainable peace process, as recent events in the area clearly confirm.
Palestinian academics have been paying the very heavy price of occupation for many years, both personally and in the under-development of their institutions. More recently, the conditions of closure and siege have reduced our scientific endeavours to near-paralysis, leaving us unable to teach, let alone conduct research. I believe it would be more rational to work towards preserving Palestinian academic institutions against the Israeli army's onslaughts, and rebuilding them, before collaborating with Israeli academics.
To me, this seems the right moment to act, including endorsing boycotts, instead of turning to the easier yet ineffective paths of building personal relationships, scientific or otherwise. Boycotts have been effective in raising issues and influencing change.
Israeli and other academics need to stand up for the right of Palestinians to scientific and educational development, academic freedom and freedom of speech for all, not simply on one side of the border. Cooperation with individuals may make academics feel better, but is not helpful, and can possibly be harmful, in general terms. Saying no to academic boycotts may mean that academics are not willing to pay a price for their stated ideals. To many of us here, this translates as a de facto endorsement of the Israeli government's attempt to destroy 'anything Palestinian', including the academic institutions that these relationships are supposed to assist.