Partner telecom CEO: We were shocked by Orange's 'extremely irresponsible statement'

"We will decide what is best for us, our customers and we will follow through," says incoming Partner CEO Itzhak Benveniste

Orange logo covered with Israeli flag (photo credit: PARTNER WORKERS UNION)
Orange logo covered with Israeli flag
Incoming Partner CEO Itzhak Benveniste said Friday that he was shocked by statements made by the head of French telecom operator Orange in which he expressed a desire to leave the Israeli market.
"We were shocked by the extremely irresponsible statement made by the CEO of Orange," Benveniste said in an interview with Army Radio on Friday.
"We will begin our evaluation this morning and decide what is best for us and our customers. We will take action." he said.
Orange Chairman and CEO Stephane Richard told reporters on Wednesday in Cairo that his company wished to distance itself from its role in facilitating Israel’s rule over the Palestinian territories. Orange, which has an affiliate agreement with the Israeli firm Partner, is one of Israel’s largest cellular service providers.
Richard backtracked on Friday and told French newspaper Le Monde that the decision for Orange and Partner to break ties "has nothing to do with politics."  He said that Partner is just a company that uses Orange's logo and therefore Orange " does not have any influence on its strategies or operations."
The statement was largely an echo of what the company itself said Thursday, that it indeed wishes to end its brand licensing agreement with Partner, but that the move is a matter of policy, not politics.
Human rights organizations in France have been pressuring Orange to cease its business operations in Israel in protest of Jerusalem’s policies in the West Bank.
“Believe me I would cancel the contract tomorrow if I could,” Richard said. His comments were reported by the Daily News Egypt.
Richard said that the language of Orange's contract with its Israeli operator precludes it from pulling out.
“We didn’t renew the contract, we wanted to change the terms of the contract and include a termination date, as there previously wasn’t a termination date, and gave us no possibility of leaving the deal,” he said.
"We want to terminate this and to fix this, we don’t want it," he said. "In the existing contract, it gives us the option to terminate this without exposing this to a huge financial risk. If you were the CEO of this company you would act the same.”
The executive said that the company is in a legally disadvantageous position when it comes to Israeli law.
“The only other possibility would be to enter a dispute with the partner, and I’m sorry to say but entering a dispute when you have zero legal grounds in Israeli courts is not something I would recommend for my company," Richard said. "I am not willing to pay hundreds of millions of euros just because I have to take a risk in terms of penalties.”