(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
To the uninitiated onlooker, the Palestinian Authority’s announcement this week of a boycott of given Israeli goods – a prelude, it warns, to a total ban on blue-and-white products – sounds like fair tit-for-tat.
The exclusion of six of the best-known Israeli brands from Palestinian stores was portrayed as retaliation for the government’s recent decision to freeze the handover of tax and tariff revenue it collects for the PA.
The PA, however, threw in for good measure its old reliable pretext for any and everything – “continued settlement activity.” It thus accentuated suspicions that this is more than straightforward retribution.
Prohibiting the sale of goods from the Strauss Group, Tnuva, Osem, Elite, Prigat and Jafora-Tabori is sure to be an appealing tactic, especially in Europe where it is increasingly trendy to blacklist Israeli imports, to wreak havoc on the businesses that sell them and to menace shoppers.
More than the PA hurts Israeli producers, it emboldens the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) activists overseas to openly extend their campaigns from “settlement products” to any brand associated with Israel.
The PA has long inspired foreign boycotts, which, although nongovernmental, gain inexorable momentum.
Anti-Israel bans indisputably stimulate a potent negative dynamic and intensify the country’s bad reputation.
Defaming Israel and banishing it beyond the pale has become official PA policy. This is the logic of its decision to join the International Criminal Court and thereby instigate proceedings against Israel for alleged war crimes.
Israel failed to dissuade the PA, a supposed peace partner, from its cynical ploy. The revenue freeze was imposed to signal that adversarial provocations will henceforth carry a price.
The PA cannot have it both ways – it cannot expect Israel to dutifully funnel funds to Ramallah while Ramallah drastically escalates hostile initiatives. Nevertheless, rather than accept that biting the hand that feeds it does not pay, the PA appears dead set on making a bad situation worse.
This is hardly new. Ramallah periodically announces assorted embargoes, most of which fizzle out. In 2011, for instance, it sponsored a ban on “settlements’ goods.”
The PA’s highest echelons drummed it up and its Treasury footed the bill for the boycott’s strict enforcement.
Then-PA prime minister Salam Fayyad, a self-professed moderate, personally tossed Israeli products into huge bonfires to the ecstatic cheers of bystanders. Violators of the boycott ordinances faced heavy fines and as many as five years in prison.
Official Israel complained that this contravened the terms of the original Oslo Accords, and that it hardly meshed with rhetoric about confidence-building measures during then-ongoing proximity talks, but all this fell on deaf ears.
Eventually though, despite the harassment of retailers and the loud brouhaha, most boycotts dissipated quietly on their own. When all was said and done, the PA knowingly inflicted damage on its own people via its recurrent attempts to get on Israeli nerves.
In its latest move, it will likely harm itself as well. The six boycotted firms are resilient and much of what they offer cannot be replaced in the Palestinian marketplace.
This is hardly an effective means of fighting the Jewish state, but there should be no mistake – this new boycott too is conceived and implemented as an unequivocally antagonistic act against Israel. The double standards and demonization unleashed from Ramallah surely attest to something that runs deeper than smug holier-than-thou criteria for commercial vendettas.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas ought to remember that the latest boycott, like its futile predecessors, directly flouts the economic annex of the original Oslo Accords. Known as the Paris Agreement, the April 29, 1994, Annex IV of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (or Protocol on Economic Relations) specifically forbids what Abbas now launches.
That protocol forbids restrictions on agricultural and industrial products. Each side, the annex stipulates, “will do its best to avoid damage to the industry of the other side and will take into consideration the concerns of the other side in its industrial policy.”
This is yet another Palestinian breach of the Oslo Accords, which hardly augurs well for the much-vaunted causes of compromise and coexistence.