Settlement boycott to help Palestinian economy

PA minister Abu Libda views act as assisting Palestinian self-sufficiency.

311_abu libda (photo credit: Ron Friedman)
311_abu libda
(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Israel-Palestinian economic relations at Tel Aviv University on Monday, Minority Affairs Minister Avishai Braverman and PA National Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libda expressed their governments’ desire for peace, but disagreed on the wisdom and viability of the Palestinian boycott on settler goods.
The conference, which was organized by the Peres Center for Peace, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the University Institute for Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation, also featured representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian business and labor sectors.
In his address, Abu Libda stressed that the Palestinian Authority’s boycott was aimed solely at the products manufactured in what he called “the illegal settlements in the West Bank,” and not against Israeli-made products. He characterized the decision to boycott settlement products as “practical and peaceful” – measures decided on jointly by the government, the business sector and civil society – and said they were part of a Palestinian two-year plan promoting statehood.
“For us, the Palestinians, to be expected to treat the settlement products like we treat the Israeli products is not only an insult, but an act of self-destruction,” said Abu Libda.
“This is a campaign aimed at raising public awareness regarding settlement products and services, and the role settlement businesses play in helping make illegal settlements economically viable.
The campaign is focused on helping Palestinian consumers to be cognizant of their rights and to distinguish between illegal settlement products and legal Israeli products,” he went on.
“Our efforts at nation-building require us to reinvigorate the economy, and impose the rule of law. This means that as a government, we have to act against all forms of illegal trade, smuggling and unlawful trading channels. If we are to be respectful of the rule of law, as all nations are requiring us to be, we have to act against the illegal products of settlements in our market,” said Abu Libda.
“Israeli-Palestinian economic relations were never a stumbling block for negotiations.
Despite an unfair and imbalanced cross-border trade, our economic relations were always managed objectively,” Abu Libda continued. “It is the political issues, or rather lack of progress on the political front, that has continually derailed business and trade relations.” The Palestinian minister claimed that Israel had violated the Paris Protocol economic agreements when it stopped letting in Palestinian workers and restricted access of Palestinian goods into Israel following the second intifada in 2000. He also said that the settlements were the single largest impediment to peace and the largest threat to Palestinian statehood.
However, he reiterated that Israel itself was not the target.
“If companies that currently produce illegally in settlements decide to transfer their factories from settlements into Israel proper, then they will naturally be able to market in our towns and villages,” said Abu Libda.
In response to a question from the moderator, journalist Gal Gabay, about Israeli fears that the boycott would be adopted internationally and extend to all Israeli products, Abu Libda responded that what isolated Israel was not the Palestinian campaign, but the Israeli government’s behavior and policies.
“I don’t think the flotilla fiasco was pushed down the throats of the government of Israel. It is Israel who decided to be above the law and against the will of the international community,” he asserted.
Speaking directly after Abu Libda, Braverman said that while he could perhaps understand the sentiment driving the Palestinian boycott on settlement goods, he completely opposed the boycott itself.
“You are delusional if you think that sustainable growth can be achieved without ending the conflict… while the boycott may directly impact the settlement economy, unless it transforms into something different, the Israeli economy will not significantly suffer from it,” said Braverman.
“The Palestinians think that the boycott will help boost the Palestinian economy, but I’m telling you that it won’t happen. Only cooperation will lead to growth,” he declared.
Braverman suggested that both sides look past the “minor issues” and focus on resuming direct talks on the core issues of borders. He called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to embrace the opportunity for comprehensive peace with the Arab and Muslim world, presented by the Arab Peace Initiative, and advance to direct negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on that basis.
“This is the true basis. I know it is, because I know that Hamas fears it,” said Braverman, urging Netanyahu to take advantage of the initiative as long as it was still on the table.
On the issue of the boycott, Braverman reminded the participants that 22,000 Palestinians were employed by the settlers and that the boycott would lead to the firing of thousands of providers. He suggested to do away with extremism and “petty politics” and move ahead with the permanent solution.
Avital Shapira, head of the Histadrut’s foreign relations department, said that the path of boycotts was a bad one. She said that as the person in charge of the workers unions’ international affairs, she was fluent in the language of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), and that their sole aim, when used against Israel, was to delegitimize the state.
“The PA may be pursuing a local boycott on the settlements, but in the world, it is translated into demonization of Israel as a whole. They do not make the distinction,” said Shapira.
She added that the Histadrut represented Palestinian workers in the settlements and that her interest was to protect their jobs and their rights. She expressed concern that the boycott would lead to the workers being fired.
Amiram Shor from the Israel Manufacturers Association said that Israeli businesspeople were interested in cooperating with Palestinians and had taken steps to stabilize business ties, but warned against testing the business sector’s patience with boycotts.
He said that if the Palestinian workers ceased working in the settlements, replacements would be found in the form of foreign workers. He proposed that rather than end business ties, Israelis and Palestinians from the business sector should become a bridge in anticipation for future peace.
“I am happy to see how many here are concerned for these 22,000 workers,” said Abu Libda sarcastically. “But if you are concerned, why don’t you take them to work in Israel? They are talented, professional, loyal workers employed for relatively low wages, and can donate much to the Israeli market.”