[News] The PA's disingenuous boycott campaign

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 25 13:31:59 EDT 2010

The PA's disingenuous boycott campaign
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 25 May 2010


In recent weeks, the US- and Israeli-backed Ramallah-based 
Palestinian Authority (PA) has made a show of calling on Palestinians 
to boycott goods manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Despite the rhetoric of defiance and resistance, and exaggerated 
screams of anguish from Israeli settler groups, the PA effort 
actually appears designed to co-opt, undermine and abort the much 
broader Palestinian civil society campaign of boycott, divestment and 
sanctions (BDS), and to reassure Israel of the continued docility and 
collaboration of its puppet regime in Ramallah.

As part of his daily routine of publicity stunts, unelected 
Ramallah-based "Prime Minister" Salam Fayyad has been seen tossing 
bundles of settler-produced goods onto bonfires. As for PA 
"President" Mahmoud Abbas, he recently signed the "Karama" (dignity) 
Pledge -- promising not to allow settlement goods into his house and 
encouraging others to do the same. PA volunteers have been going 
door-to-door in the occupied West Bank to distribute lists of 
settler-made consumer goods that should be avoided.

So far, all well and good. Palestinians and those in solidarity with 
them should absolutely boycott Israeli products. Since 2005, hundreds 
of Palestinian organizations endorsed an appeal which "call[s] upon 
international civil society organizations and people of conscience 
all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment 
initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa 
in the apartheid era" 
(<http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=66>"Palestinian Call for 
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)," 9 July 2005).

The BDS movement has seen activists all over the world calling -- 
with increasing success -- on companies to cease doing business in 
Israel, to stop selling Israeli products, for international 
performers not to perform in Israel, for academics to refuse 
cooperation with Israeli institutions and for cultural institutions 
to boycott Israeli government-sponsored events aimed at prettifying 
Israel's apartheid practices.

Recently, dozens of Palestinian youth organizations, independent as 
well as aligned with virtually every political faction, inside and 
outside historic Palestine, issued a joint call under the title 
"Palestinian youth united against normalization with Israel." The 
youth "declare our rejection of normalization with Israel on all 
levels" -- economic, political, cultural and institutional -- and 
their adherence to the principles of the Palestinian independent 
Boycott National Committee which steers the BDS movement 
youth united against normalization with Israel," 28 April 2010).

BDS represents the broad consensus of Palestinian society, but the PA 
settlement boycott campaign actually violates and calls on people to 
defy the BDS call. During a photo opportunity where he affixed a 
sticker to the door of his house attesting that it was free of 
settlement goods, Abbas emphasized, "We are not boycotting Israel, 
because we have agreements and imports from it."

Similarly the official PA website for the ironically-named "Karama 
Pledge" states: "Regarding trade with Israel, the Palestinian 
Ministry of Economy confirms continuing its cooperation as it was 
agreed at the [1994] Paris summit" (<http://karama.ps>http://karama.ps).

All of this is no doubt under the rubric of the PA's famous 
"adherence to signed agreements" dictated by the Quartet (the US, EU, 
Russia and the UN). But the PA website even acknowledges that Israel 
itself does not abide by agreements and that "Israel forbids any of 
our products from reaching its markets. In addition, Israel places 
many obstacles that face Palestinian products waiting to be exported 
to foreign countries ... Israel is even denying Palestinian rights 
which were agreed in the Paris agreement."

The PA's insistence on abiding by agreements Israel constantly 
violates is further evidence -- if it were needed -- of the PA's 
terminal subservience. Given this reality, the main purpose of its 
campaign is actually to undermine both the methods and goals of the 
growing grassroots BDS movement and to preach to Palestinians that 
they must and should do business with Israel and allow Israeli goods 
in their markets and cooperate and normalize with Israel unconditionally.

The 2005 Palestinian BDS call states that "nonviolent punitive 
measures should be maintained" until Israel meets all its obligations 
to Palestinian rights and international law, specifically: ending its 
occupation and colonization of all Arab land and dismantling the 
apartheid wall; recognizing the rights of Palestinian citizens of 
Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the 
rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. The PA 
campaign, by contrast, makes no mention of these goals whatsoever, 
focusing narrowly on settlements -- but even this is an empty commitment.

As part of the PA's hasbara campaign, Abbas issued a decree 
threatening large fines and terms of imprisonment up to six years for 
those who deal in or import settlement goods into the West Bank. 
Notably this decree does not impose any penalties on Palestinian 
businessmen who sell goods and provide services to the settlers. In 
recent years credible allegations have repeatedly surfaced that a 
number of senior PA and Fatah officials, including most notoriously 
former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, and their family members have 
grown rich from selling cement to Israel for construction of 
settlements and the apartheid wall (or acting as brokers to import 
cement from Egypt on behalf of Israeli companies). Despite repeated 
promises that the PA attorney-general would investigate and prosecute 
such violations nothing has ever happened. Unsurprisingly, Abbas and 
Fayyad -- despite their new found anti-settlement zeal -- still seem 
uninterested in investigating PA complicity.

While undermining BDS is probably the main aim of the bogus PA 
campaign it is likely not the only one. The Abbas/Fayyad regime lacks 
any legal, political or democratic legitimacy. It invested all its 
efforts into the endless and pointless US-sponsored "peace process" 
that has made Palestinians worse off by every possible measure. In 
recent years, independent grassroots campaigns have taken off, 
including BDS and the popular nonviolent struggles against the West 
Bank wall and settlements. But just as Yasser Arafat's Palestine 
Liberation Organization was surprised and alarmed by the outbreak of 
the first Palestinian intifada in 1987 and moved quickly to try to 
control and co-opt it, the PA leadership is attempting to do exactly 
the same now. The PA is not just attempting undermine the independent 
BDS and grassroots campaigns, but to co-opt them precisely because of 
their growing power, popularity and legitimacy as liberation 
strategies, in the hope that some of that legitimacy will rub off on 
the Ramallah regime.

The Electronic Intifada 
reported on the PA's middle-of-the-night arrest of Mousa Abu Maria, 
co-coordinator of the grassroots Palestine Solidarity Project in the 
occupied West Bank village of Beit Ommar.

Abu Maria, as reported in The Economist, sees the PA's sudden 
interest in popular nonviolent resistance as "a veiled bid by Mr. 
Fayyad to gain control of an independent grassroots movement and to 
turn the drive for a Palestinian state into a cause without rebels" 
Palestinians peacefully build a state?," 20 May 2010). More 
generally, US-trained PA paramilitaries continue their harsh 
crackdown on any sort of independent activism and organizing in the 
occupied West Bank.

Consider too the irony that the PA has launched its campaign against 
the settlements at precisely the moment it is engaged in US-brokered 
"proximity talks" with Israel. The PA had previously vowed not to 
return to any sort of negotiations until Israel halted all settlement 
construction throughout the West Bank including occupied Jerusalem. 
Israel defied requests from US President Barack Obama to stop 
construction, but instead of standing up to Israel, the Americans 
pressured the PA to return to negotiations without any conditions or 

Thus the settlement boycott acts as a cover for the abject weakness 
of the PA to stick to even its most modest promises, let alone 
extract real concessions from Israel or its American sponsors during 
negotiations. Equally clear, it is a diversion. According to numerous 
reports, Israelis and Palestinians agreed in principle during the 
proximity talks on a "land swap." This is not new; it has long been a 
peace process industry article of faith that in a two-state solution 
Israel would remove only token settlements while the vast majority, 
especially those in and around occupied Jerusalem which house at 
least 80 percent of the settlers, would be annexed to Israel. In 
exchange for receiving East Jerusalem and large parts of the West 
Bank, Israel would give the Palestinians some sand dunes near Gaza 
(the so-called Halutza Sands) and some remote barren hills south of Hebron.

So while the Ramallah leaders -- who have no mandate or authority 
from the Palestinian people whether under the PA or the Palestine 
Liberation Organization to negotiate on their behalf -- make a show 
of boycotting settlement goods, their actual agenda is to promote 
economic normalization, undermine BDS and legitimize the settlements 
through "negotiations."

Where the PA does remain firmly committed to boycott is in its 
support for Israel's total blockade and siege of the Palestinian 
people in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. Despite occasional lip 
service to ending the blockade, Ramallah PA leaders always stress 
that it should end only according to the terms dictated by the 
Quartet: that the US- and Israeli-backed PA militias should return to 
Gaza to police and repress the Palestinians there on behalf of Israel 
just as they are doing in the West Bank.

The PA in Ramallah has, notably, offered no support to the courageous 
international flotilla currently en route to Gaza in another attempt 
to break the blockade amid threats of violence from Israel. Why has 
the PA not called on its "friends" and benefactors in the 
"international community" to send their navies to protect this 
peaceful, nonviolent flotilla and ensure it gets through to Gaza? In 
practice, PA policy amounts to full support for the siege.

Some people have been impressed by the PA's anti-settlement campaign 
considering it a "step in the right direction." But no one should be 
fooled. Palestinians and their allies should remain clearly focused 
on the simple truth that those who continue to coordinate with the 
Israeli occupation forces to hunt down Palestinians by night cannot 
don the mantle of popular resistance by day.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of 
<http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/store/548.shtml>One Country: A 
Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

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