In July the International Court of Justice, in a landmark ruling, declared the West Bank separation barrier illegal and urged Israel to demolish the structure as well as pay compensation to Palestinians affected by its construction.

This decision of the UN's top court, although non-binding, cleared the decks for sanctions in the event of non-compliance by the Israel Government.

It was on the basis of this World Court ruling that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) voted last month for a partial boycott of Israel, asking the 115 member-nations to ban Israeli settlers from visiting their countries and to boycott companies that work on the separation barrier.

Not unnoticed

While the result of the NAM vote is awaited (India is said to have expressed its official disapproval of the document at the UN this week), the development did not go unnoticed in Tel Aviv.

It was enough to get Shraga Brosh, chairman of Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, talking about potential losses to the economy and damage to exports.

The wall has made Palestinians
prisoners in their own country

Three decades are not such a long time in world history. A 1971 World Court verdict against South Africa's occupation of Namibia eventually led to sanctions against that country and the fall of the apartheid regime. Many in Israel fear that a similar fate awaits them.

"This is the marker that grants legitimacy to economic and commercial sanctions, which could endanger our future and security," commented Haifa University professor Nitza Nahmias in the Maariv daily.

But other analysts beg to differ. "It's a long way from a declaratory action by the Non-Aligned Movement to serious enactments by western European or North American governments. I don't see sanctions on the horizon," Hebrew University political science professor Ira Sharkansky told Aljazeera.net.

"I wouldn't count on the Non-Aligned Movement. With all the proclamations of NAM forums, plus $2 or $3, you can buy a cup of Starbucks."

New dynamic

Rather than a literal reading of the NAM resolution, Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher sees it and other boycott efforts like it as part of a "genuine new dynamic" developing in the international community with regard to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

"It's what I call the 'South Africanisation' of the conflict," Alpher said.

"We are seeing a very new international dynamic that seeks to relate to the issue of the territories, in ways similar to South Africa"

Yossi Alpher, Israeli political analyst

"We are seeing a very new international dynamic that seeks to relate to the issue of the territories, in ways similar to South Africa, and the international community is reacting to that."

He says here is a growing awareness in Israel of the need to respect the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling, and sees this "awakening" as the main motivation behind the disengagement movement, regardless of what people think about it.

"Certainly Sharon's disengagement plan represents his ability to predict this dynamic. We are liable to find ourselves branded like South Africa."
 
South African law professor John Dugard, who is currently serving as the special rapporteur for the United Nations on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, confirmed this trend.

In a report to the to the UN General Assembly early last month, Dugard said there is "an apartheid regime" in the territories "worse than the one that existed in South Africa".

Dugard was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the end of the apartheid regime. In May, he called for an arms embargo against Israel similar to the one imposed on South Africa in 1977.

Boycott revisited

This is not the first time that a boycott has been attempted against Israel of course. The NAM decision brings to mind a decades-long Arab boycott of the state of Israel that was for the most part dormant and largely ineffective.

One of the consequences of the Arab-Israeli peace agreements, including the Oslo accords, was the unravelling of the boycott.

Humiliating checkpoints recall life
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Following the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, 18 of the 22 members of the Arab League agreed to "reactivate" the half-century-old ban on trade with Israel, with little to show for it so far.

A list of 15 firms to be blacklisted was drawn up, but the list has remained unpublished.

League members Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania - which maintain diplomatic ties with Israel - and Somalia did not attend the meeting.

The NAM resolution reintroduces the possibility, yet again, of an Arab boycott in view of the fact that many Arab countries are NAM members.

But according to the Palestinian Trade Centre's Gaza director, Hanan Taha, the goal of any boycott effort this time around would be the European market rather than the Arab one.

"NAM is trying to pressure other countries, mainly western ones, to take a similar decision. The EU is a huge trade market for Israel. This is more of a political move than an economic one. It's a sort of lobbying effort," Taha said.
 
"[Settlements' products] don't go to Arab markets anyway.And even if they do, it's hard to tell because they are re-exported in American or European packaging," Taha said, highlighting one of the main obstacles faced by the boycott movement. 

Growing trade

Jamal Juma, coordinator of the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, says Arabs should be the first to renew their diplomatic and economic boycott of Israel, but admits that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon - certainly not without a European lead.
 

"The EU is a huge
trade market for Israel. This is more of a political move than an economic one. It's a sort of lobbying effort"

Hanan Taha,
Director-Gaza,
Palestinian Trade Centre

"It's a tragedy and a disgrace. Arab states more than any others are called upon to boycott Israel, and instead they are increasing their trade ties with them," he said, noting that there are joint plans to expand oil pipelines between Israel and Jordan as well as a joint electricity grid along Highway 505.

When completed, the highway will stretch from Tel Aviv to the Jordan Valley, dividing the West Bank in half as it connects illegal Israeli colonies along the way.

Indeed, trade relations between Israel and Jordan have never been stronger. Israeli exports to the Hashemite kingdom increased by 50% last year, according to newly released Israeli economic data.

Juma believes that more pressure needs to be applied to force Israel to abide by international law, and that resolutions such as the one taken by NAM aren't nearly enough.

Global boycott

The Israeli Government is tightening its apartheid-like system like never before, with evidence on the ground to prove it, Juma says.

"There are metal doors at checkpoints and a matrix of administrative procedures to get through. Paths of travel are categorised into various permits and ways, and this is in addition to mass land confiscation that is going on," he said. 

Palestinians need more than just
symbolic international support

"It's not time for a boycott of settlement products alone. We need a boycott on a global level of Israel as an apartheid system, as a state not abiding by international law. That's how it should be dealt with," Juma told Aljazeera.net.

"We have to ask ourselves: Who is behind settlements? Who is supporting it? Who is making it a reality in the West Bank? The Israeli Government. It must be a boycott of Israel and it must be made clear to them why."

Palestinian diplomatic sources say PLO representative to the UN Nasir al-Kidwa is planning to build on the international momentum generated by the ICJ ruling and the NAM vote by proposing a resolution of his own in the General Assembly this week.

The resolution will threaten Israel with sanctions if it continues to ignore the Hague-based court's ruling.

However, as far as tangible action is concerned, whether by way of NAM or the United Nations, Palestinians should not expected anything in the foreseeable future.