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PA Group Calls for Arab Boycott of Jerusalem Light Rail Firms

The Palestinian Authority is trying to recruit Arab nations to boycott the firms who are building the light rail system in Jerusalem.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 11/17/2009, 10:35 AM / Last Update: 11/17/2009, 10:54 AM

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The Palestinian Authority is trying to recruit Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to boycott two firms involved in the construction of the Jerusalem light rail project. The two firms, Veolia and Alstrom, are both based in France.

Alstrom currently is contracted to build a railway to Mecca, a project worth billions of dollars. In addition, there are other deals on the table for construction of power plants in the kingdom. The United Arab Emirates also holds several contracts with the two firms.

Dr. Rafik Husseini, director-general of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's office, issued a statement Monday urging all Arab governments to withdraw their business from the firms.

Husseini made the statement at a news conference organized by a group of PA non-governmental organizations (NGOs) calling itself the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC). Joining him at the news conference to express their support were the Orthodox (Christian) Archbishop, Attallah Hanna, and Jerusalem Mufti Mohammad Hussein.

The BNC said in a statement that it was strongly urging Arab governments to "practically translate their consistent verbal support for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem into action, at least by refusing to deal on a business-as-usual basis with companies implicated in violation of international law and Palestinian rights." The BNC claims that because the light rail traverses the re-united capital, it treads on "occupied territory" in violation of international law. The eastern sections of Jerusalem were restored to the city after Israel won the 1967 Six-Day War.

The BNC has also called for boycotts against companies which produce goods and services in Judea and Samaria, and against Israeli artists and academics. PA Economic Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh has said that he feels compelled to enforce the boycotts and has banned the sale in the PA of any goods produced by Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Such a move runs counter to the American Roadmap plan and is in opposition to the stated U.S. goal of bringing Israel and the PA closer together in terms of reciprocal business and other strategic ties aimed at peace. Western nations, including the U.S., have invested billions of dollars in various projects to support the development of economic infrastructure and mutual trade between Israel and the PA.

The PA-based BNC has also been successful in convincing others to cancel business ties with the two French firms as a result of their work in Israel. Among the deal-breakers were companies in Britain, France, Australia and Sweden, all of whom were convinced by external pressure from groups outside Israel and the PA.

The construction of the Jerusalem light rail began during the administration of former Mayor Uri Lupolianski. The new trans-capital line, which begins at a mammoth "Bridge of Strings" at the entrance to the city, is slated to make its first run within the next 18 months.