Israeli leaders have reacted harshly to a Palestinian boycott launched last Tuesday against products made in Israeli West Bank settlements, threatening to impose higher taxes on Palestinian-made goods and possibly blocking cash donations from European nations.
“It is unacceptable that the Palestinians are waging an economic war against us with the sense that everything is allowed,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as telling a meeting of his Likud Party Monday.
Yisrael Harel, a founder of the Yesha Council that represents West Bank Jewish settlements, warned: “A boycott today means tension, hostility and violence that will only postpone, perhaps forever, the Palestinian state that [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad aspires to.”
But Judith Kipper, director of Middle East programs at the Washington-based Institute of World Affairs, said the Palestinians are using peaceful means to “raise issues” that are standing in the way of a two-state solution.
“They have moved from the violent stage to try to create resistance through economic and other means,” she said. “We may be at the end [of being able to achieve] a two-state solution, and if this can get the attention of their own people and the United States it may help.”
The boycott is directed against 500 specific products. A list of the items is to be sent to all West Bank Palestinian homes and any Palestinian merchant caught dealing in these products is subject to a fine and imprisonment.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, endorsed the campaign last week that Fayyad had launched. He put a sticker on the door of his home reading, “Free of settlement goods.”
Shmuel Sandler, a senior research associate at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, said Assad had “no choice” but to support the boycott.
“Fayyad wants to become the real leader,” he said. “He’s very weak, but he wants to show he has some standing vis-a-vis Hamas. So he is following a more nationalistic line than Abu Mazen and is forcing Abu Mazen to be more extreme. … Fayyad is American educated, but political reality forces him to do certain things.”
Noting that the Palestinian boycott calls also for the 25,000 Palestinians who reportedly work in West Bank Israeli settlements to quit their jobs, Sandler said those workers are dependent on that money.
“They will be hurting themselves” if they join the boycott, Sandler said of the Palestinian workers.
Ironically, the boycott comes as Israel has taken steps to implement a package of measures to ease movement and limit restrictions in the West Bank, action praised Tuesday by the Quartet, the international body seeking Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“Some of these steps are significant and should improve the economic and living conditions of the West Bank Palestinian population,” said Robert Danin, the group’s head of mission.
The boycott comes just as indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority got under way with the United States as mediator. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said he planned to raise the boycott issue at these talks to urge the Palestinians to call it off. Palestinians reportedly buy about $20 million of Israeli West Bank settlement products annually.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom declined to discuss the boycott with reporters, but during a visit Tuesday to Ariel College he said the government might increase taxes on Palestinian products and compensate affected Israeli factory owners with money intended for the Palestinians.
Shraga Brosh, chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, was quoted Tuesday as proposing the closing of Israel’s port to all imports and exports of raw materials and goods from the Palestinian Authority.
“Our port is their oxygen tube and closing it will only hurt them, not us,” he said. “As far as we are concerned, they can transfer their activities to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This way, we will show them that after their slap in the face, we will not turn the other cheek.”
In a statement Tuesday, the Yesha Council called the Palestinian action “economic terror” against Israel.
“This is an act of hostility with all intents and purposes on the part of the Palestinian Authority and its leaders, and it must be answered immediately and decisively,” it said.
Fred Lazin, a political science professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said he could “understand the Palestinians wanted to boycott products from settlements, and I could also understand Europeans and others who want to join the boycott.”
“There are many Israelis who oppose Israel’s settlement policy, as does most of the rest of the world,” he said. “Now, because we have a right-wing government, the settlements have become part of Israel. The reality today is that Israel extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. So we have now done away with the Green Line — the 1967 borders. Which means we have added another 3 to 4 million Palestinians to the State of Israel.”
Although Israeli officials are talking of taking reprisal actions against the Palestinians, Lazin pointed out that under international law Israel is responsible for the territories.
Asked about the timing of the boycott just as peace talks begin, Lazin replied: “It probably is poor timing. Why do it now? It might have to do with the fact that their government is very fragile.”
Sandler said he is convinced that the timing was “motivated by internal politics.”
Kipper said simply: “People do things when they are ready to do things. Both Israelis and Palestinians characteristically don’t do the right thing at the right moment. Both have legitimate claims, both have committed heinous crimes, and neither side is savvy for political timing.”
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