Palestine solidarity activists are welcoming an announcement that the French multinational Orange could dump its Israeli affiliate within 18 months.
But campaigners in France and Egypt say they will maintain their call for boycott of the telecom company until it actually ends its complicity in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.
Heading for exit?
On Tuesday, Orange announced that it had signed a new deal with the Israeli company Partner Communications “which creates a new framework for their relationship.”
Under the new deal, Orange could pull out of Israel by mid-2017, instead of 2025, as under the previous agreement.
Orange would also pay Partner up to €90 million ($99 million) in compensation.
His statement was seen as a direct reaction to a boycott campaign on Orange’s Egyptian subsidiary Mobinil, which has 33 million customers.
Orange, which has 250 million customers worldwide, operates through various ownership arrangements: in the UK under the name EE, in Belgium as Mobistar, in Morocco as Médi Télécom and in Iraq as Korek Telecom.
It operates under its own name in dozens of other countries including Tunisia and Jordan.
The company, which has plans to expand in the Middle East, is therefore vulnerable to popular outrage at its complicity in Israeli crimes.
But following a furious Israeli backlash over his comments in Cairo, Richard traveled to Israel for a humiliating dressing down by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Richard vowed that his company would never support a “boycott,” but he also never retracted his position that Orange wanted to exit Israel for purely “commercial” reasons.
The French government, while also nominally opposing “boycotts,” has tacitly backed Orange’s pull out.
Boycott will continue
“This is incontestably the result of the mobilizations in France and Egypt against the shameful agreement between Orange and an Israeli company that operates in the settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, and which sponsored Israeli combat units in Gaza during the military aggression last summer,” BDS France said in reaction to Tuesday’s announcement by Orange.
“BDS France which, together with other partners, has waged this battle for years, celebrates this victory for ethics and for international law against a state that respects neither,” the group added.
But it also noted that ending the agreement with Partner remains only an option for Orange, not a certainty. The group stated that “Orange has refused to publicly condemn Israel’s illegal actions and that a break between Orange and Partner will not take effect unless the pressure on Orange continues.”
BDS France vowed that mobilizations would continue in France and other countries, notably Egypt and Morocco, “until Orange ends completely all agreements with Partner Communications and with all Israeli companies that violate international law or are complicit in the violation of the rights of the Palestinian people.”
In an emailed statement, the group expressed satisfaction that Orange’s announcement “reflects the pressure from people of conscience all over the world on Orange (Mobinil).”
But it also confirmed that “its campaign will continue against the company as long as the violations continue, and it will not stop until the company ends all its activities in the occupied Palestinian territories and respects Palestinian rights.”
Complicity in Israeli crimes
Orange operates in Israel through a franchise agreement with independently owned Partner Communications Ltd. Partner pays royalties to Orange and a share of its profits for using its brand name.
Through this arrangement, Orange participates in systematic violations of Palestinian rights, according to an investigation published in May by a coalition of French and Palestinian human rights and labor organizations.
The report notes that Orange profits from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as Partner operates hundreds of communications towers and other infrastructure, much of it on privately owned land confiscated from Palestinians.
What has generated particular outrage is that Orange Israel directly sponsors two Israeli military units, one of which, the Ezuz tank brigade, directly participated in some of the bloodiest incidents in last summer’s assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.
Notably, the French government owns a quarter of Orange’s shares, making it a direct beneficiary of economic activities in settlements it deems to be illegal.