Israeli diplomats are concerned that a large wave of sanctions could hit the country if the current round of talks with the Palestinians fails.
A recent spate of boycott actions in Europe and the US will have a limited effect but Israelis fear that they could be just the beginning.
Recent developments such as British government recommendations for companies and individuals not to do business in the settlements; the Romanian decision not to allow their citizens working in Israel to take part in construction projects in the West Bank; and the efforts of Dutch water company Vitens to get out of a project with Israeli water utility Mekorot because of its work beyond the Green Line, have given the impression of a boycotting momentum and provoked jubilation within the BDS camp.
While these are all isolated instances, the decision this week of the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli academia added to the sense of a gathering storm.
“The ASA is a small and radical organisation, so the implications of their boycott are minor,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin in a radio interview. “We shouldn’t overreact but we have to be on guard for further attempts.
“We don’t think that any Western government is actually interested in boycotting Israel or placing sanctions, at most against the settlements,” said a senior Israeli diplomat, “but these things can have a dynamic of their own. We have beefed up our attempts to detect any such development and improve our work to prevent them.”
Another possible development is an EU-wide directive on labelling Israeli goods produced beyond the Green Line. Israel’s fear is that such a move could hit all Israeli exports. European diplomats have said in recent weeks that the labelling move will be considered if the current talks fail. The EU is offering a comprehensive aid package to both Israel and the Palestinians if a result is reached, while warning of the dire consequences of failure. Senior EU diplomats have warned that Israel will be blamed by the international community if new settlements are announced next month and the peace talks fail.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas embarrassed pro-boycott activists when he made clear in an interview in South Africa last week that the PA is not in favour of boycotting Israel, only the settlements. “We do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel,” he said.