Is the Palestinian Authority in Violation of American Law?

On Thursday, May 27, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Paris to formally accept the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s invitation to Israel to join the ranks of the world’s leading economies.

But Israel’s accession to the OECD would not have happened if the Palestinian Authority had its way, and the PA’s attempt to block Israel’s economic achievement could theoretically backfire and endanger American military assistance to the would-be state of Palestine. What’s at stake? Approximately $100 million that was appropriated for 2010 to train and equip the PA’s elite presidential guard and security forces.

During the deliberations of the 31 OECD members earlier this year, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki lobbied all the foreign ministers of the OECD countries, calling for the vote to be delayed because, he charged, Israel infringed on Palestinians' human rights and violated OECD values, Ha’aretz reported.

Israel complained that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also called many of the leaders of OECD countries to argue against Israel's acceptance, the Ha’aretz report continued. "Fayyad's efforts to thwart Israel's participation in the organization,” said Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor Party), “are extremely grave, and even more so during a time when Israel wants to begin proximity talks in order to reach an agreement and a reconciliation between the nations."

The formal Palestinian leadership, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), was also mobilized to block Israel’s joining the OECD, according to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC).  “In the run-up to the OECD decision,” a press release stated, “the BNC coordinated with the PLO, unions and other civil society actors in all thirty OECD member states as part of an intensive campaign to oppose Israel’s membership for its persistent and systematic violations of the rights of the Palestinians.”

On a basic level, the Palestinian attack on the Israel-OECD deal just doesn’t jive with the peace negotiations U.S. mediator George Mitchell is attempting to kickstart.

On another level, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas launched a campaign this month to boycott products made in Israeli settlements. Fines and even jail time await Palestinians who use the enemy products or work in neighboring Jewish communities. While Abbas claims that the boycott is not directed against Israel “with whom we have relations,” it is difficult to prevent a boycott of settlement goods from sliding into a boycott of all Israeli goods which may use components or ingredients made in Judea/Samaria a few miles away.

The boycott was also declared at a time when Israel is opening checkpoints and encouraging economic development in the West Bank. This week, Tony Blair’s Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem welcomed Israel’s decision to implement a package of measures to ease movement and access restrictions in the West Bank. OQR Head of Mission Robert Danin welcomed the development, saying, "Some of these steps are significant and should improve the economic and living conditions of the West Bank Palestinian population." [Source: a press release not yet posted on the Quartet website.]

Some 25,000 Palestinians work in the Jewish communities in the territories, most in the settlement blocs, which will be kept under Israeli control if a peace agreement is reached. The boycott will not only cost them their jobs, but may also deep-six the prospect of joint economic projects in the future.

When President Mahmoud Abbas visits Washington next month, he will certainly be quizzed by congressmen and senators about the OECD attack and the boycott, particularly since they challenge American law on the boycott. The 2009-2010 Omnibus Appropriations Act, State Department Appropriations section, states:

The Arab League boycott of Israel, and the secondary boycott of American firms that have commercial ties with Israel, is an impediment to peace in the region and to United States investment and trade in the Middle East and North Africa; all Arab League states should normalize relations with their neighbor Israel. ... The President and the Secretary of State should continue to vigorously oppose the Arab League boycott of Israel and find concrete steps to demonstrate that opposition by, for example, taking into consideration the participation of any recipient country in the boycott when determining to sell weapons to said country.