Boycotting West Bank products: A view from South Africa
Fayyad’s call from Ramallah for Palestinians to boycott West Bank products made by Israeli companies sealed South African initiative.
Palestinians call for a boycott Photo: REUTERS
JOHANNESBURG – Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s call from
Ramallah on Sunday for Palestinians to boycott West Bank products made by
Israeli companies sealed the initiative in recent weeks by South African Trade
and Industry Minister Rob Davies to label these products as such, though he has
denied aiming to boycott them. Fayyad thanked a South African official for his
The boycott affects the livelihood of 15,000 Palestinians in
Area C where all Israeli companies are situated, according to Israel’s Foreign
Ministry spokesperson Paul Hirschson. This is the area where Israel is by
recognizable international treaties responsible for civilian law and
Iraqi-born Middle East columnist Linda Menuhin Abdul Aziz
believes the boycott will fail as it did in 2010, because Palestinians will not
buy into it.
“A recent survey showing the majority of Palestinians
approve of a boycott of West Bank products, I think is
Palestinians are caught in a vicious cycle,” she said. “They
cannot afford to lose their jobs and benefits, neither now nor in the future, on
the one hand. On the other, they cannot stand up against the boycott lest they
be labelled as traitors. The Arab world applies double standards and behaves in
a two-faced manner. In public they say exactly the opposite of what they say in
In 2011, it was estimated 76,723 Palestinians work in Israel
and the settlements.
Compared to Israel’s unemployment rate of just over
five percent, unemployment in the West Bank in 2011 was 22.5% out of a total
labor force of 745,600, according to the CIA World Factbook.
in Gaza is estimated at 45 percent. Here Israel has had no presence since 2005,
save to facilitate the freight forwarding of produce out of and into the
The irony of the call by South Africa to label products made in
the West Bank as such, and not as those of Israel, is two-fold.
disregard for the consequences of the labeling by the South African government
reflects upon its own lack of political will to address the underlying causes of
its own unemployment problem, at just under 40% of its total workforce as
measured in 2009.
It has been argued convincingly by Ann Bernstein in The
Case for Business in Developing Countries that companies, rather than foreign
aid, will lift people out of poverty. The PA has received over $3 billion in aid
over the past three years, thus fueling its annual 8% economic growth. Hence
more companies, rather than less, are needed to address poverty.
Davies, Minister of Trade and Industry since 2009, and Fayyad, former PA
Minister of Finance, are in precarious political positions. Both have shown
ineptitude in stopping corruption in their own governments and in areas under
their own purview; corruption that is a growing source of outrage for citizens
in South Africa and the territories.
ANC government officials have
benefited and continue to do so from industrial and trade activity, mostly in
the form of state tenders, at the expense of South African
That Davies may be called to account before the Commission of
Inquiry into the Arms Deal for failing to exercise oversight over the Department
of Trade and Industry under then-minister Alec Erwin has not escaped observers
of this on-going saga. These were arms not needed by South Africa in the first
place but predicated on the offsets they promised and by which contractors were
Davies was chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on
Trade and Industry from 1996-2004 – that is, during and after the arms deal was
concluded and subsequent attempts made to investigate it.
of Trade and Industry not only stone-walled when the auditor-general and the
Joint Investigating Team tried to access information about the paucity of the
offsets – a mere 10,000 jobs created versus 65,000 promised – but contrived to
hide it in its opaque annual reports, unremarked on by Davies at the
Indeed, the offsets were heralded as the rationale for the whole
arms deal by then-minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils in parliament in 1997.
He added in this speech that the arms acquisitions would in fact be led by the
Department of Trade and Industry.
In that same year Kasrils wrote an oped
for the Mail & Guardian describing the situation in Israel and the
territories as worse than apartheid.
Davies’ recent acknowledgement in
parliament, under questioning by the opposition Democratic Alliance’s Shadow
Minister of Defense David Maynier, that the DTI flouted its normal practices in
the arms deal, in no way exonerates him for his own failure to check it at the
Authors Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren in The Devil in the
Detail: How the Arms Deal Changed Everything, go further: “As we will discuss in
much more detail in later chapters, there is also the possibility that the
offsets programs that were attached to the Arms Deal may have been used to
facilitate corrupt arrangements. At the very least there remains the suspicion
that the offset figures that have been presented to the South African public in
support of the Arms Deal have been the result of inducements offered to
officials of the DTI rather than a true reflection of their actual
It has been estimated by the ANC’s former highest ranking
member of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts in 2000, Andrew
Feinstein, who was forced resign by the ANC when he launched a multi-pronged
investigation into the arms deal, and who is author of After the Party and The
Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, that of the 70 billion-rand arms
deal (at 2018 prices), 3b. rand was paid in bribes to the ANC, government
officials and agents.
Davies was sent a copy of the article but has not
Regarding labeling of West Bank products by the South African
government, Hirschson – who is originally from South Africa – says his problem
with such an issue is that there is “to my knowledge, no case of specifically
labeling produce from territory under dispute – including the land which
Swaziland claims South Africa is occupying.
“There are some 200
territorial disputes in the world and the focusing on only one side of only one
of those conflicts raises uncomfortable questions about the motivation behind
such potential policies.”
The writer freelances for The South African
Jewish Report. In 1995, she won the Sanlam Financial Journalist of the Year
award for her coverage of the property, building and construction industries in
South Africa. At the time she was property editor of the Financial Mail.