Concern over a possible international economic boycott of Israel has been growing. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians. At the beginning of the month she warned that if there was no progress in diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, the European boycott of Israeli products would not be limited to goods produced in West Bank settlements, but that it would be applied to Israel proper as well.
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At a speech in Eilat, Livni said that when it comes to economic issues, the discourse in Europe had also taken on an ideological turn, spawning increasing calls for a boycott of Israel. “It’s true,” she stated, “that it will begin with the settlements. But their problem is with Israel, which is perceived as a colonialist country, so it won’t stop with the settlements and will reach all of Israel.”
In Friday’s Haaretz, Yossi Verter reported that the relevant government ministries had recently received disturbing news. Major banks in Europe with operations around the world have been exploring the possibility of barring loans to Israeli companies that have a business or economic link with the occupied territories. According to the information received, these banks’ investment committees have been considering recommending barring their institutions from providing loans, or any other assistance, to Israeli companies that manufacture, build or conduct commerce in the territories, or to banks that provide mortgage lending or loans to builders or buyers of housing in the territories.
Although the recommendations have been rejected for the time being − after an Israeli lobbying campaign that came against the backdrop of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic initiative in the region − the proposal will continue to hover over Israel.
The magnitude of the danger this poses to the Israeli economy is hard to overstate. A European economic boycott of those with any connection to the occupied territories would be very broad. And Livni is warning that it would spread way beyond that. Even at this point, the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) has chalked up a not-inconsiderable number of achievements.
As a result, Israel is facing its moment of truth. Is it prepared to pay a steep economic price for its continued occupation of the West Bank and for its diplomatic inaction? Is it ready to pay the price of the government’s refusal to work for the establishment of a Palestinian state, to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed back in 2009, with the economic implications that such a boycott entails?
The need for new, courageous and steadfast policy does not stem solely from the threatened economic damage. The diplomatic and moral price that Israel is paying for the continued occupation is high enough, but now − with Europe talking about stiffening its economic stance − the price that Israel is due to pay becomes substantial and tangible. Israel has only one conclusion to draw from this: To exercise a genuine readiness to end the occupation and reach an agreement, before this major threat becomes a reality.