Despite recent calls by Palestinian Authority officials to boycott two French companies working on Jerusalem’s much-anticipated light rail system, the local spokesman for one of those companies – Alstom – told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the light rail work was moving ahead as scheduled, and that political considerations would not interfere with the firm’s completion of the project.
“Alstom is not a political company,” said the company’s Israel spokesman, Nissim Zvili, a former MK and Labor Party secretary-general who served as ambassador to France from 2002 to 2005.
“The question that I think needs to be asked here is not what members of the Palestinian Authority are saying about the light rail, but how Palestinian residents of the city feel about it. The light rail will serve all residents of Jerusalem – east and west – and will be beneficial for all of them,” he said.
Last week, however, the chairman of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office, Dr. Rafik Husseini, urged all Arab countries to cancel their business ties with both Alstom and Veolia Environnement – the other company involved inthe light rail’s construction – as its planned route connects west Jerusalem with the city’s east – which the PA considers occupied territory and sees as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The boycott call, if heeded, would be especially significant for Alstom, which is working on a multi-billion dollar railway project in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, along with the construction of a power plant in another part of the kingdom.
Husseini’s calls for the boycott, which were made during a press conference last Monday, are being pursued by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), which organized the conference.
In a press release, the BNC also called on Arab states – in particular Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – to cut business ties with the two companies until they withdraw their investments and involvement inthe light rail project.
“The [Jerusalem Light Rail] aims at irreversibly entrenching the ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem through connecting its most significant colonial settlements, illegally built on the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) in and around EastJerusalem, with the city of Jerusalem,” the press release reads.
The BNC press release claims that due to its pressure, Veolia had been forced to “declare its intent to withdraw” from the light rail project.
“Alstom and Veolia’s complicity in the JLR is a clear violation of international law and human rights principles,” the press release continues.
“For this reason, a wide international campaign, spearheaded by the BNC with many international partners, has been launched for the boycott of Alstom and Veolia, achieving significant victories in Sweden, the UK, France and Australia. This campaign, entitled ‘Derail Veolia/Alstom,’ has already contributed to Veolia’s loss of contracts estimated at billions of dollars, forcing it to declare its intent to withdraw from the JLR project.”
While multiple attempts to verify those claims with Veolia – both by phone and email – went unanswered last week and on Sunday, Zvili said on Sunday that Alstom had no intention of pulling out of the project.
“Right now we are focusing on continuing the project and finishing it as soon as possible,” said Zvili, who added that no private land had been appropriated forthe light rail’s construction and that the new transportation system was expected to be up and running within 18 months at most, barring any “unseen delays.”
Furthermore, an Alstom spokesman in France told the Post on Sunday that the light rail was “ensuring Jerusalem residents’ right to public transportation,” and not violating international law, and that the company was one that “meets its commitments and doesn’t interfere with political debate.”
Speaking to the Post last week, David Hadari (Habayit Hayehudi), one of Jerusalem’s deputy mayors, echoed Alstom’s comments on the matter, adding that he was disturbed by the PA officials’ “interference” in the matter.
“They’re simply interfering with the planning and policy of the State of Israel,” Hadari said on Thursday. “It’s unacceptable, and at the end of the day, the Jerusalem Municipality will do all that is possible to strengthen ties with these companies and advance the [light rail] plans forward.”
Hadari added that he hadn’t seen anything hinting at either company’s intention to withdraw from the project, and that he thought the recent boycott calls were nothing more than a “press stunt.”
“It’s chutzpa in the worst way,” he said. “If they were constructing a transportation project in a Palestinian area, Israel would likely be funding part of it, yet when we embark on such a project – and one that will serve both Arab and Jewish residents of Jerusalem – they decide to interfere.”