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Boycott tests depth of Palestinian market

Responding to Israel\'s decision to withhold tax and tariff revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian officials have initiated a boycott against products manufactured by six leading Israeli companies.
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February 17, 2015

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Responding to Israel's decision to withhold tax and tariff revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian officials have initiated a boycott against products manufactured by six leading Israeli companies.

The campaign was announced on February 11 by Fatah Central Committee member, Mahmoud Aloul and PLO member Wasel Abu Yousof.  The targeted companies, all of whom are top tier producers, include dairy giant Tnuva; food manufacturer Osem; chocolate, coffee and ice cream maker The Strauss Group; and soft drink manufacturers Prigat and Jafora-Tabori. Israeli produce also falls under the ban.

The Israeli move to withhold more than $100 million per month was intended as blowback for the Palestinian foray into membership at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, a move Jerusalem and Washington call unilateral and provocative. Although the Israelis have used the tactic in response to other acts by the Palestinian Authority that it deems to be offensive, officials in Ramallah have, until now, believed it lacked the ability to utilize a boycott: in particular, having substitute providers lined up to replace the boycotted goods. This time, those behind the boycott are promising customers that the subject goods will be replenished on their supermarket shelves within the two week period merchants have been given to rid their stores of the selected Israeli products.

Despite those assurances, though, boycott leaders say it has not – and will not – be easy to abide, again citing concerns that there are insufficient alternatives to the consumer goods that will not be available.

Amjad Mohtaseb, a sales manager at local dairy products manufacturer Al-Junaidi, told The Media Line that he hopes that his company, as well as other Palestinian owned dairy manufacturers, will be able to cover consumer demands. Mohtaseb points out that not only are all dairy products provided by Israel not currently manufactured in the Palestinian Territories, but most “in-put resources”  – the ingredients from which product is made – are also obtained from Israel.

Nevertheless, many Palestinians see the economic boycott as a way for Palestinians to express their anger at the Israeli withholding of funding at a time when the PA's economic situation is in dire straits.  Dr. Nafteh Abu Baker, an economist at An-Najah University in Nablus, believes that the economic boycott is a useful “non-violent tool of the struggle” that will eventually help create jobs and boost sales of local goods, predicting that the boycott campaign will be rather effective in the long run.

“Having a complete boycott is unattainable when there are goods or services we cannot import from other countries or provide locally, such as electricity, fuel, gas, and water,” Abu Baker told The Media Line. “If we want to see substantial changes, the government, civil society, and consumer protection bodies need to change their attitudes about Palestinian goods.”

Rather than being a spontaneous reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian tit-for-tat, the Palestinian “BDS Movement” – boycott, divestment and sanctions – has its fingerprints on the campaign.  Aisha Mansour, a volunteer with the global BDS movement, said, “Six years ago when I would talk about boycotting Israeli goods, people would roll their eyes at me. Today the boycott is growing as a culture among consumers.”

Nevertheless, many Palestinians realize the limitations of the boycott call, in particular because the Palestinian market is so strongly reliant on Israel. Through May 2014, 86.5 percent of Palestinian exports went to Israel, while approximately 65 percent of all Palestinian imports came from Israel, approximately $300 million worth of goods.

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