Palestinian participation in Israel conference slammed

BDS groups and activists describe Palestinian leaders’ partaking in Herzliya conference as ‘national betrayal’.

Ayman Odeh
Head of the Joint Arab list in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh, says the conference is an opportunity to voice the Palestinian position [File: AP]

Senior officials from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset have come under fire by groups advocating the boycott of Israel for their participation in the annual Herzliya conference, a key Israeli security and national policy meeting.

The two-day conference, which took place between June 14-16, was attended by many high-profile Israeli officials including President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, army officials and academics. 

Ayman Odeh, head of the joint-Arab list in the Israeli Knesset, Ahmed Majdalani and Ghassan al-Shakaa, senior members of the PLO’s executive committee and Elias al-Zananiri, the vice-chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, were all present at the conference.

“How can they participate in a conference, where the main goal is to maintain and strategise the security of the occupying state?” asked Mahmoud Nawajaa, the General Coordinator for the BDS Palestinian National Committee.

Activists from several local and international boycott groups criticised the Palestinian officials’ participation, describing it as a form of “normalisation” with Israel.

READ MORE: Palestine-Israel – Is peace activism serving occupation?

So surreal and ironic when representatives of what is supposed to be a 'liberation organisation' act as such. They are directly sustaining the occupation and the Israeli colonial regime.

by Alaa Tartir, director of al-Shabaka

Established in 2005, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is a Palestinian-led global movement that calls for an economic, academic and cultural boycott of Israel until it complies with international law and grants Palestinians their rights.

On Thursday, the BDS group published a press release demanding that those who participated in the conference be held accountable. 

“I consider the participation of Majdalani and al-Zananiri and all the other Palestinians, a stab to the boycott movement, a stab to all the Palestinian people, and a stab to the boycott as a form of resistance,” Nawajaa told Al Jazeera. 

The officials who participated, however, see the conference as an opportunity to communicate the plight of the Palestinians and to voice their political position.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Odeh said Palestinian leaders participated in this conference and other events because they see them as “important platforms to present [their] opinions.” 

“We always say that what is most important is what you say and not who you meet with. I went to confront, and that is better than isolating ourselves,” said Odeh, stressing it was their right to be present and to speak about their cause. 

PLO members who participated in the conference could not be reached by time of publication.

Q&A: Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List

During a panel in the conference, Gilad Erdan, minister of information and public security, said there will be a real “price to pay” for BDS activists within Israel and that the government was planning measures against them. 

Alaa Tartir, programme director of al-Shabaka Palestinian Policy Network, says he sees the participation of the Palestinian officials a “national betrayal”.

“Pleasing the occupier and insisting on demonstrating that they are a ‘credible partner for peace’ seems to be their top priority, which is far away from the people’s demands and aspirations,” said Tartir. 

“So surreal and ironic when representatives of what is supposed to be a ‘liberation organisation’ act as such. They are directly sustaining the occupation and the Israeli colonial regime.” 

Is ‘BDS’ a threat to Israel?

Although Odeh said he spoke about the Palestinian national cause at the conference, Nawajaa says Israel needs to be isolated altogether.

“Twenty-two years of negotiations and trying to communicate our positions to one another have led to a miserable failure and the deterioration of the Palestinian situation and the closure of the political horizon, and an increase in settlements and colonialism,” said Nawajaa. 

“Now is the real time to resist and to boycott – to isolate Israel completely and not to normalise relations with it.”

Source: Al Jazeera