OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday brushed off U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that Israel faced a growing boycott threat if peace talks with the Palestinians fail, saying the campaign would not achieve its goal.
In the latest flare-up between the two allies, two of Netanyahu’s Cabinet ministers went even further, lashing out at Kerry and accusing him of undermining the Jewish state’s legitimacy and the chances of reaching a peace agreement.
Israelis and Palestinians launched peace talks in July after a long lull and have thus far shown little signs of progress. Facing an April deadline, Israel is working against a backdrop of increasing international pressure to reach a deal, coupled with a growing call for boycotting Israel over its settlements in areas it occupied in the 1967 war.
A small but growing number of European businesses and pension funds have begun to drop investments or limit trade with Israeli firms involved in the occupied West Bank settlements. At a security conference in Germany this weekend, Kerry warned that a breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian talks would accelerate this trend and could threaten Israel’s economic prosperity and its safety.
“You see for Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things,” Kerry said. “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”
At the opening of his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said international pressure on Israel would backfire and only cause the Palestinians to harden their positions.
“Attempts to impose a boycott on the State of Israel are immoral and unjust. Moreover, they will not achieve their goal,” he said.
While Netanyahu refrained from taking aim at Kerry, some of his ministers were harsher. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, called Kerry’s comments “offensive, unfair and insufferable.”
“You can’t expect the state of Israel to conduct negotiations with a gun pointed to its head,” he said.
Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, from the religious, pro-settler Jewish Home party, said all “the advice givers” should know that Israel will not abandon its land because of economic threats.
“We expect our friends around the world to stand beside us, against anti-Semitic boycott efforts targeting Israel, and not for them to be their amplifier,” said Bennett, a fierce critic of the Kerry-led talks.
Aiming to clarify, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry’s only reference to a boycott was a description of actions by others that he has always opposed.
“Secretary Kerry has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well-being, including staunch opposition to boycotts,” she said in a statement.
A growing number of governments and international businesses have in recent months said they would not trade with any Israeli firms with ties to settlements the international community deems illegal, highlighting the creeping success of a Palestinian-led boycott campaign.
The so-called BDS movement – boycott, divestment and sanctions – works to convince governments, businesses and celebrities to cut all ties with Israeli companies active in occupied Palestine, in a bid to repeat the success of the boycott that ended apartheid in South Africa.
In the latest example, Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank, blacklisted Israel’s Bank Hapoalim last week because of its links to settlement construction.
Last week, U.S. actress Scarlett Johansson was forced to chose between being an ambassador for Oxfam and taking on a new role as the public face of Israel’s SodaStream, which has a factory in the West Bank, after the aid group said the two roles were “incompatible.”
She resigned her Oxfam position.
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid recently said that even in the case of a limited boycott that reduces Israeli exports to the European Union by 20 percent, the damage would amount to about 20 billion shekels ($5.7 billion) in exports annually.
In a related development, Lapid also ordered that all payments to settlements be stopped until their use was clarified. The move followed a TV report that said funds were allegedly being illegally transferred to the Yesha Council – an umbrella groups of settlers – that was illicitly using the money for political purposes.