PLO supports BDS — or does it?

The declaration a week ago by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clearly stating his opposition to a boycott of Israel (while supporting a boycott of goods produced in the West Bank settlements) has caused deep concern and confusion in the ranks of supporters of the boycott.

The trade union-backed Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK is a strong supporter of the BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions) campaign.  On its website today you’ll find an article entitled “PSC welcomes PLO support of BDS”.  The article consists of just one sentence which reads as follows:

“Palestine Solidarity Campaign welcomes the joint statement from the Embassy of the state of Palestine to the Republic of South Africa and BDS South Africa.” 

This is followed by the statement.

The only problem is — the statement says nothing of the sort.

I encourage everyone to read it slowly and carefully.

It includes this key sentence: “The Palestine Liberation Organisation and the State of Palestine is not opposed to the Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.”

I guess you could interpret “is not opposed” to mean “support” — but that’s not what it actually says.

The entire statement is couched is very diplomatic language that appeases all sides.

Obviously, the PLO is keen to not undermine its relationship with organizations that see themselves as “pro-Palestinian”.  So it welcomes everything they do without necessarily endorsing each tactic.

Equally, as Abbas made clear last week, they have signed a peace agreement (the Oslo accords) where they recognized Israel — and therefore cannot be calling for a boycott of it.

The PLO and the Palestinian state are quite clear what they are calling for: “the State of Palestine is calling on all countries to fulfill their obligations under international law by immediately, as a first step, ending all trade and relations with companies from or involved in the illegal Israeli settlements“.

As Abbas himself made clear, a call for the boycott of settlement goods is not the same thing as a call for a general boycott of Israel.

In fact one might argue that they are entirely different things.

One targets a specific policy of the Israeli government with which anyone might disagree (building settlements in the occupied territories).  The other challenges the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Much as the pro-Hamas PSC may want it to be otherwise, ever since the PLO made its historic shift in 1988 and called for a two-state solution, its position is radically different from that of the BDS campaigners.

The PLO and the Palestinian Authority do not support a boycott of Israel.  They do support a boycott of settlement goods.  There is a difference.