Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas Flash 90

On a visit to South Africa to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas said that the PA did not support boycotts of Israel. Speaking to South African reporters, Abbas said “No, we do not support the boycott of Israel. But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.”

With that, he said, the PA itself had both political and business relations with Israel. “We have mutual recognition with Israel,” he told the reporters, and boycotting the State of Israel was not part of the PA's policy.

The statement came just days before members of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to approve an academic boycott against all Israeli academic institutions. The boycott, the group said, is “part of a larger movement, BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Israeli academic institutions function as a central part of a system that has denied Palestinians their basic rights.”

Abbas' comments have elicited harsh condemnation from leaders of the BDS movement. The extremist Electronic Intifada web site quoted BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti as saying that Abbas does not speak for the “Palestinian people. There is no Palestinian political party, trade union, NGO network or mass organization that does not strongly support BDS.

“Any Palestinian official who lacks a democratic mandate and any real public support, therefore, cannot claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people when it comes to deciding our strategies of resistance to Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid,” Barghouti added.

Despite his fierce defense of BDS, however, Barghouti himself is studying for a masters degree in philosophy at Tel Aviv University.