PA backtracks on ‘don’t boycott Israel’ comments

Contradicting Abbas, Palestinian mission to South Africa endorses BDS movement

Palestinian protesters hold up flags and a sign reading "boycott occupation and its products" during a protest at a Rami Levy supermarket in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, October 24, 2012 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian protesters hold up flags and a sign reading "boycott occupation and its products" during a protest at a Rami Levy supermarket in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, October 24, 2012 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The Palestinian diplomatic mission in South Africa released a statement Friday, saying that it does support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, and claiming that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments stating the contrary were “taken out of context and misconstrued” by the media and “members of the Israeli lobby.”

While in South Africa earlier this month for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Abbas stunned reporters and Palestinian activists alike when he stated that the Palestinians do not support a boycott of Israel. Abbas did advocate boycotting Israeli products made in the West Bank, on territory that the Palestinians envision as part of their future state.

Friday’s carefully worded statement, released jointly by the Palestinian Embassy and BDS South Africa, clarified that “Palestinian officials and leaders respect and uphold the right of Palestinian civil society to initiate and lead local and global BDS campaigns against Israel as a means to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, paramount among which the right to self determination.”

The statement continued, “We are keenly cognizant that international solidarity, particularly boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) was one of the four pillars of the struggle against apartheid here in South Africa.”

It noted that on December 14, Fatah sent an official letter to South African President Jacob Zuma, communicating its support of the BDS movement.

“No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,” the Palestinian leader told a group of South African reporters on December 9. “But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.

“And the Israelis should first of all stop building in our territories, should stop everything in our territories,” he stated, according to South African media outlet The Star.

“But we do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself,” he reiterated. “We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.”

His comments drew condemnation from some Palestinian activists, who said Abbas was out of touch with the Palestinian people.

The PA president’s comments conflict “with the Palestinian national consensus that has strongly supported BDS against Israel since 2005,” one of the founders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Omar Barghouti, told the Electronic Intifada website.

“There is no Palestinian political party, trade union, NGO network or mass organization that does not strongly support BDS. Any Palestinian official who lacks a democratic mandate and any real public support, therefore, cannot claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people when it comes to deciding our strategies of resistance to Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid,” Barghouti said.

The BDS movement calls for blanket boycotts of Israel, not just Israeli settlements, with the stated goal of ending the Israeli occupation of Arab lands and granting a right of return to all Palestinian refugees.

“Any Palestinian official who today explicitly speaks against boycotting Israel — particularly in a country like South Africa, where the ruling party, leading trade unions, churches and other civil society groups have warmly endorsed BDS — only shows how aloof he is from his own people’s aspirations for freedom, justice and equality, and how oblivious he is to our struggle for their inalienable rights,” Barghouti added.

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