The international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] against Israel received a slap in the face last week from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
As BDS supporters continue to campaign against Israel around the world, Abbas, asked about his position regarding the BDS campaign at a news conference in Johannesburg, where he was attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral, stated that he does not support the boycott of Israel.
It is ironic that while Abbas is saying no to a boycott of Israel, the American Studies Association, an association of U.S. professors with almost 5,000 members, voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli colleagues and universities.
The U.S. professors obviously do not care about what the Palestinian Authority president has to say about the boycott of Israel. The professors, like BDS supporters, apparently believe that Abbas is a «traitor» because he is conducting peace talks with Israel.
Abbas’s attack on the BDS movement is a serious embarrassment for the anti-Israel activists, many of whom are not Palestinians.
The statements have enraged BDS activists worldwide, with some calling into question Abbas’s right to speak on behalf of the Palestinians.
Prominent Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab noted that Abbas’s statement in Johannesburg «naturally has angered many Palestinian and international supporters of the BDS movement.»
Kuttab wrote that Abbas’s statement «reflects the absence of any clear strategy from the Palestinian political leadership except for negotiations. It is unclear whether the reason behind the Palestinian leader’s public attack at the BDS movement is a result of trying to protect the Palestinian elite or not wanting to anger the Israelis and their US allies.»
Abbas did, however, call on people around the world to boycott products of settlements. «No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,» Abbas said. «But we ask everyone to boycott the products of settlements because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.»
Abbas’s statements conflict «with the Palestinian national consensus that has strongly supported BDS against Israel since 2005,» Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of BDS, told Electronic Intifada.
«There is no Palestinian political party, trade union, NGO [non-governmental organization] network or mass organization that does not strongly support BDS,» Omar Barghouti continued. «Any Palestinian official who lacks a democratic mandate and any real public support, therefore, cannot claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people.»
Salim Vally, spokesman for the Palestine Solidarity Committee in South Africa, told The Electronic Intifada that Abbas’s comments were «shocking» and represented an «attack on the global solidarity movement.»
The claim that Abbas does not represent the Palestinian «consensus» regarding a boycott of Israel is inaccurate. In fact, many Palestinians seem to share Abbas’s view, which supports a boycott only of settlement products.
That is why many Palestinians continue to do business with Israelis on a daily business. That is also why, despite the BDS campaign, Palestinians and Israelis continue to hold joint seminars and conferences in Israel and different parts of the world.
In wake of Abbas’s statements, the BDS movement should reconsider its strategy. Calls for boycotting any party do not contribute to the cause of peace. Abbas’s stance against the BDS should also serve as a wake-up call to its supporters, especially those who are not Palestinians, that negative campaigns only serve to promote hatred and extremism in the region.