French telecoms operator insists decision to end its brand-licensing agreement with Israeli company is not political.
For years, Palestinians and their supporters have been saying that the only way to end Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine is simply by making its military occupation costly for Israel.
This appears to be happening as a result of the sharp increase in awareness and support of the international boycott movement. For years, Israeli mobile phone operators have been working in the occupied territories without any restrictions. Israel refuses to allow Palestinian companies, for example, to have 3G services while its own companies work freely in the occupied territories providing 3G and even 4G.
Today, and due to pressure mostly by Egypt’s BDS movement, the French telephone giant Orange is having second thoughts about its cooperation with Israel. The Israeli company that has used the Orange brand is finding that its illegal operation in occupied Palestinian territories is costly.
Israeli settlement football teams that have played in the Israeli league without any concern for the fact that they were violating FIFA rules, all of a sudden found themselves in the middle of an international debate that nearly saw the Israeli federation dismissed from the global association.
Troubles are not over
But while Israel got a yellow – instead of a red – card, its troubles are not over. A high-level delegation headed by South African anti-apartheid leader Tokyo Sexwale will investigate the issue.
It will be impossible for Israel to deny that the five referenced teams located in West Bank settlements are, in fact, in another country as per the UN and every single country in the world.
Israel itself has not annexed the West Bank, thus there is no denial that these teams are not playing within FIFA’s mandate to play only on the territory of the State of Israel.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known by its acronym, BDS, with branches quickly spreading throughout the world, has quickly become the main focus of international solidarity and activism.
Settlement products that have for years been exported to Europe under the false title ‘Made in Israel’, will have to change their labels now according to new EU guidelines, or be denied entry.
Settlement products that have for years been exported to Europe under the false title “Made in Israel”, will have to change their labels now according to new EU guidelines, or be denied entry.
Israel’s recent agreement with Jordan to export newly discovered gas in the Mediterranean to the kingdom has also run into major opposition led by Jordanian activists of the boycott movement. The same activists working under the title “BDS Jordan” have initiated a campaign – titled “Know the source” – aimed at blocking Israeli attempts to sell their agricultural products without a source label.
Of course, Israelis and their supporters are not taking things lying down. Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson is throwing big money into fighting the BDS movement in the US through counter-activism and mostly through buying political power in Washington DC and in various state capitals.
Israelis totally unprepared
The statements of the CEO of Orange in Cairo caught the Israelis totally unprepared. This was no longer the effort of a small group of left-wing university student activists; it has become mainstream and comes from a major Western business – France owns a quarter of the company’s shares. Albeit, on June 7, in an apparent reversal of the decision, the chairman of Orange said that the French telecoms group “is in Israel to stay“.
The Israelis might be able to slow down or temporarily frustrate efforts as had happened in Zurich at the FIFA Congress, but few believe that they will be able to stop the momentum now.
Naturally, all that has happened so far has been the result of individual, not governmental, efforts. President Mahmoud Abbas and even Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal pay lip service to “popular struggle”, boycotts and other non-violent acts. But the fact is that Abbas and his government are so much under the thumb of the Israelis that they cannot make any major moves in this direction while maintaining the status quo with the occupation authorities. This was made crystal clear when Abbas was asked by reporters in South Africa if he supported the boycott of Israel.
“No, we do not support the boycott of Israel. But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal,” he replied.
The differentiation might be subtle but it is very important. BDS supporters make no separation between boycotting Israel or boycotting settlements. Boycotting settlements and their products might be easier to explain, but BDS supporters feel that one has to figuratively attack the snake at its head not at its tail. This difference is one of the main reasons why Palestinians are not in agreement in regards to the boycott movement.
This was made clear in recent weeks when a Palestinian university disinvited the Egyptian-born Cherif Bassiouni, known as the “godfather of International Criminal Law” and who’s on the steering committee for The Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, because he spoke at two Israeli universities while he was welcomed by leading Palestinian government officials.
A similar problem surfaced in East Jerusalem over the presence of a senior Jordanian official at Al-Aqsa Mosque: Is visiting Jerusalem by Arabs and Muslims a patriotic act, as Abbas and others proclaim, or normalising relations with the occupiers of Jerusalem?
Irrespective of some of the internal problems, the boycott movement will most certainly escalate in the comings weeks and months especially if the Palestinian government goes through with its charges of war crimes against Israel regarding its 2014 war on Gaza and its illegal settlement policies. If the ICC makes a ruling in favour of Palestine, it will greatly benefit the efforts to sanction Israel internationally.
Forty-eight years after Israel occupied Palestinian and Arab lands, this occupation is starting to become a liability. If the current boycott trend continues and the price of occupation becomes higher and higher we might be seeing the light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.