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Yariv Oppenheimer in Ma'ariv: Palestinians Justified in Boycotting Settlements

Ma'ariv: "What Do They Want from the Palestinians?"

By Yariv Oppenheimer, Peace Now Secretary General

Those Palestinians, what ingrates. Instead of being happy that the Israeli economy has learned to exploit the lands of Judea and Samaria and to invest inordinate sums of money to build factories and industrial zones in the territories, the Palestinian Authority announces a boycott and a ban on purchasing Israeli goods that are manufactured in the settlements. We could have expected better from the Palestinians. Since we stole their land, established industrial zones in the territories and exploited the cheap labor that they were able to supply in abundance, the least they could do in return is to buy the products that are manufactured in the territories and help the Israeli economy continue to develop on the lands of the territories.

After all, the profits from Beigel&Beigel, which resides in the Barkan industrial zone, help pay the taxes to the Shomron Regional Council, by means of which the settlements are further expanded and new roads and other infrastructure are laid out for the illegal settlement outposts in its jurisdiction--definitely worthy causes that Palestinian funds ought to support. So it really isn't clear why suddenly, after all the years in which the Palestinians served the policy of occupation in the territories with their own hands and funds, top PA ministers stand up and declare a boycott on products manufactured in the settlements. What has changed? Has the Fayyad-Abbas government suddenly realized that it is wrong to operate solely on the basis of cursory economic expedience and that they ought to stop and think for a moment about their long-term political goals? Has the Palestinian people decided to fight the Israeli occupation not by violent means but by legitimate and more acceptable methods?

To be fair, one has to admit that the factories in the territories don't hurt only the Palestinians; industry in the territories hurts first and foremost the Israeli economy from an ethical, economic and political standpoint. Beyond the moral ill of the occupation itself and the seizing of hilltops and lands in the West Bank, moving factories to the territories allowed managers cynically to exploit thousands of jobless Palestinians and to pay them low wages, beneath minimum wage, and for the most part without any social benefits. For some reason, a majority of the human rights champions fell silent when the workers were Palestinian laborers who toiled away at exhausting jobs, without a pension, without economic security and without social benefits. Furthermore, by moving the factories in the territories and by using the cheap and available work force, potential Israeli workers lost their jobs to Palestinian workers.

From an economic standpoint, Israeli exports overseas suffer from waves of global opposition, inter alia, because of the construction of new factories and the establishment of new industrial zones in the West Bank. The abhorrence of products of the settlements engenders a lack of enthusiasm to buy products that were made inside Israel, mainly due to the inability to distinguish between factories that are situated within the Green Line and factories beyond it. Furthermore, the price of the international sanctions is borne by all citizens of Israel in the form of NIS 15 million in annual grants that are given as compensation to factories in the territories. Moreover, factories in the territories are given tax benefits by means of the National Priority Areas Map, all of which is at the expense of factories that are situated inside Israel and which were left outside the map and do not receive equal assistance from the state.

Immediately upon hearing the news of the intention to boycott products of the settlements, the leaders of the Settlers Council and government spokesmen launched a frontal attack on the Palestinian Authority, which they accused of breaking the rules of the game and of sabotaging peace efforts. We Israelis are not prepared to tolerate any sort of boycott or ostracism, and the State of Israel will not support sanctions against products or services rendered by a different country. Has there ever been a single MK or minister to have called for a consumers' boycott of Turkey, for instance? The Palestinians truly have crossed the line; boycotting products because of narrow ideological considerations is unbecoming a country. "The Palestinians are shooting themselves in the foot," said top industrialists with a typically patronizing tone. Instead of collaborating with the settlement factories, the Palestinians are prepared to sacrifice the meager wages for the sake of their national struggle for independence--truly a course of action that is unfathomable for Israelis.

Like a thief who asks his victim for payment, so too has Israel demanded that the Palestinians show their settler overlords their gratefulness and to continue to buy with their money products from the factories in the settlements.

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Yariv Oppenheimer is the Secretary General of Peace Now