European boycott of Israel and its impact on the Palestinian cause

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Israel is now living with the fear that the European boycott of products from settlements built on Palestinian land occupied in 1967 will expand to include products from settlements within Israel’s borders.

Dr Hana EesaIsrael is now living with the fear that the European boycott of products from settlements built on Palestinian land occupied in 1967 will expand to include products from settlements within Israel’s borders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing his efforts to stop such isolation and possible sanctions in an effort to favour the European Union and try to harmonise his position with the EU’s. He also hopes to exploit promises from the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, not to impose a boycott on Tel Aviv, which joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in order to allow the Israeli economy to enter new international markets.

Analysts and researchers have confirmed that all political groups in Israel are challenging any boycott of the state and are calling for distinction between settlement exports and Israeli products. They are also sceptical of the statements made by Schulz and believe them unlikely to have an impact on European public opinion. However, opinions vary with regards to the official EU position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Director of the Peace Now movement, Yariv Oppenheimer, has stressed that there is a consensus amongst the various factions within Israeli society regarding their opposition to any European or international boycott of the State of Israel. However, he pointed out the need to distinguish between international isolation of Israel and the boycott of the settlement economy and refusing to grant it tax exemption or invest in Israeli projects on Palestinian land occupied in 1967.

He also explained to Al-Jazeera.net that the EU is taking a firm position on settlement expansion and is biased towards the Palestinian people against the occupation and sympathises with their cause due to the fact that the international community believes there is a need to reach a political settlement in accordance with the two-state solution and end the conflict. As such, the European boycott of settlements, and perhaps even Israel, will be coupled with progress in negotiations and the peace process.

Moreover, Oppenheimer does not believe that Schulz’s statements will serve as a guarantee for Tel Aviv and prevent the expansion of the boycott to Israel’s more influential areas. He added that although EU diplomacy seems to have extreme positions and is applying pressure, it deals with Israel objectively, without bias, and is seeking to create a balance in public sympathy for the Palestinian people in Western countries.

During a speech to the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Conference in Tel Aviv, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid revealed new research conducted over the past few months at the request of the Ministry of Finance’s Main Economic Department. This showed that the failure of negotiations with the Palestinians will cost Israeli exports 20 billion shekels, which would mean the loss of 9,800 new and existing job opportunities. In addition, the cancellation of the partnership agreement signed with the EU would cause losses to Israeli exports amounting to NIS 3.5 billion a year.

According to a report issued last month by the American AP news agency, the international campaign to boycott settlement products has become a tangible economic reality and it worries the settler farmers in the Jordan Valley; 14 per cent of the income in 21 Jewish settlements relies on agricultural exports, equivalent to $29 million dollars. This is due to the fact that many European food distribution companies are refusing to buy Israeli products produced across the Green (Armistice) Line in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The signs of the boycott are widespread, with Denmark’s largest bank, Denska, announcing that it is boycotting Israel’s Bank Hapoalim because of its activities in the Palestinian territories.

The largest security company in the world, G4S, has also announced the termination of contracts it had signed with the Israeli government, which provided for the protection and security of settlements, by early next year. Meanwhile, British police officers have opened an investigation into a coalition of security companies on suspicion of providing Israel with security services and technology in violation of the instructions and regulations of the OECD. The German government stipulated in their transfer of financial grants to “hi-tech” Israeli companies that these companies must refrain from investing any of the money beyond the Green Line; this referred to the NIS 12 million from Germany, in addition to other funds intended for investment in the private sector.

In the context of enhancing and encouraging a boycott, Britain said, “The government does not recommend British companies to invest in projects outside the boundaries of the Green Line for fear of legal problems, as the projects are implemented on occupied land.”

The boycott has also reached Romania, which refuses to send labourers to work in the Israeli construction sector unless their work is limited to areas within the Green Line, inside Israel. In addition to this, all EU countries have cancelled the customs and tax exemptions applied to settlement products, which is causing losses to Israeli factories in the occupied West Bank.

Food distribution networks, particularly in Britain and Scandinavia, have refrained from buying peppers, grapes, dates and spices grown in the occupied Jordan Valley area; this has caused great losses, said David Alhayani, the head of Israeli Jordan Valley Regional Council. “In reality, we are not selling anything to the European countries,” he added.

Who is leading the boycott?

On July 9, 2005, there were headlines reporting the launch of an international campaign involving 171 non-governmental Palestinian organisations calling for a boycott of Israel academically, economically and culturally. The leaders of this campaign, called BDS (“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”), called for the demolition of the Apartheid Wall and Israel’s recognition of the rights of those Palestinians who live in Israel, as well as respect for the Palestinians’ political rights.

It seems that the boycott campaign is a major nuisance for Israeli politicians. Netanyahu described it as an unethical and unfair action that will not achieve its goals, adding that threats issued by US Secretary of State John Kerry regarding a boycott of Israel has “caused the Palestinians to insist on their refusals and therefore these threats have hindered peace”. He insisted that “no pressure” will force him to give up the “vital interests of the state of Israel, above all the security of the citizens of Israel.”

The leader of the Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett, insisted on his position and refused to give up his rejection of the boycott: “Only security will bring economic stability, not a terrorist state [sic] close to Ben-Gurion Airport. We expect our friends around the world to stand by our side to face the anti-Semitic attempts to boycott Israel, not to be their mouthpiece.”

At the end of the day, it seems that the battle of Israel, its government and it supporters cannot be won without achieving peace and resolving the conflict with the Palestinians

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