• Israelis split over threat posed by boycott calls
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     | December 20,2013
     
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    A Palestinian youth fixes a poster of Saleh Yasin, 28, during his funeral in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, Thursday. The Israeli military on Thursday killed the Palestinian gunman during an arrest raid in the West Bank, the latest in a recent string of deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the area.

    JERUSALEM — Could Israel face a mounting global boycott of the type that ended apartheid in South Africa if it fails to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians by this spring?

    Some liberal Israeli commentators have been sounding such warnings, and the outgoing EU envoy to the Middle East said Thursday that support in Europe for sanctioning Israel over its settlement policies could gain steam if talks collapse.

    Israeli officials have been downplaying any potential repercussions, and this week the European Union dangled unprecedented incentives before Israelis and Palestinians to nudge them toward a deal.

    But Palestinian grassroots activists and their foreign supporters say an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions — or BDS — against Israel is gaining momentum.

    They point to recent successes, such as a decision this week by the American Studies Association, a group representing more than 3,800 U.S. scholars, to boycott Israeli academic institutions, though not individual Israeli colleagues.

    Some activists say the death of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela earlier this month also invited comparisons between international anti-apartheid boycotts two decades ago and similar efforts now to pressure Israel to end its occupation of lands the Palestinians want for their state.

    The BDS successes have been largely symbolic, and their impact on Israel’s robust economy has so far been negligible.

    Israeli government officials have either dismissed the BDS campaign as ineffective or portrayed it as an attempt with strong anti-Semitic overtones to delegitimize the Jewish state.

    Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., denounced the boycott decision of the U.S. scholars as a “travesty,” saying this week that “singling out of the Jewish state for boycott is no different than the many attempts throughout history to single out Jews and hold them to a different standard.”

    While talk of boycott has unleashed strong emotions in Israel, government officials have been watching Europe’s more strident stance on Israeli settlements with greater concern.

    Some 550,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians want a state in those lands and say Israel’s settlement building, which only accelerated during the negotiations, is jeopardizing the talks and pre-empting their outcome.

    The EU has reiterated in recent months that it considers all settlements illegal and has taken steps to bring its actions more in line with its stated positions.

    Europe has imposed a funding ban on Israeli research projects in the occupied territories that goes into effect next month.

    Earlier this week, EU diplomats warned Israel against new settlement announcements, saying that if negotiations collapse as a result, Israel would be held accountable.

    The U.S.-led negotiations resumed in late July, after a five-year diplomatic impasse, and are to last for at least nine months.

    On Wednesday, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, for the first time raised the possibility of an extension. He said that if the two sides reach a framework agreement on all main issues by the end of April, the Palestinians would be prepared to negotiate for up to a year to work out the details of a comprehensive deal.

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