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 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians call for a boycott 370
(photo credit: 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 support.
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 security.
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 misleading.
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 private.”
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.
Unemployment 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 enclave.
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.
The 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.
Both 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 taxpayers.
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 selected.
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.
The Department 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 time.
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 time.
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 fulfillment.”
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 responded.
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.