* By Abbas Al Lawati, Staff Reporter, Gulf News
* Published: November 17, 2009
Dubai: A pressure campaign targeted at Gulf states was launched in Occupied Jerusalem on Monday by a coalition of 170 Palestinian organisations urging Arab states to boycott companies complicit in Israel’s expansion in the holy city.
In a rare public pressure campaign, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Palestine, a grouping of Palestinian civil society organisations, has turned its focus on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is preparing to build a multi-billion dollar railway to link its six members.
The BDS campaign has called on the GCC and its member states to shun French transport giants Alstom and Veolia, both of which are involved in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR), an Israeli project that is expected to link the eastern and western parts of Occupied Jerusalem as well as Jewish colonies on the West Bank.
Critics say the JLR will hinder Palestinian aspirations to have occupied East Jerusalem as a capital of a future Palestinian state.
The BDS campaign has proven successful in Europe, where companies have excluded the two transport companies from tenders and divested from them, leading to a loss of $7 billion (Dh25.69 billion) to $8 billion in opportunity cost, according to campaigners.
“Despite these important achievements in the West, no Arab state, especially in the Gulf, has to date excluded Alstom or Veolia from bidding for their public contracts,” read a press release issued by the movement yesterday.
The two companies are now facing a lawsuit in France filed by Palestine Liberation Organisation and French advocacy group Association France-Palestine Solidarité for their activities in Occupied Jerusalem.
Alstom has expressed enthusiasm about participating in forthcoming Gulf rail projects, estimated to be worth $25 billion.
“We are certainly going to be participating in all tenders in the GCC for transport and power,” said Sylvan Hijazi, country president for Alstom Gulf. “We are proud to contribute and build the future of the Gulf.”
Activists are hoping that Gulf states could use their financial prowess to pressure the two companies to abandon the JLR, thus crippling the already troubled project.
The BDS movement has resorted to a public campaign targeted at Gulf states after apparently failing at a behind-the-scenes pressure campaign with the region’s governments.
Jamal Jum’a of the Stop the Wall, part of the BDS movement, said that the BDS movement sent a number of letters to Gulf governments asking them to withhold contracts from the two French companies which were “met with silence”.
Jum’a however insisted that the public campaign was not an attempt to shame Gulf states or “prove any kind of Arab conspiracy against [occupied] Jerusalem”.
“There’s a strong possibility that Gulf states are unaware of the work Alstom and Veolia are doing in occupied Jerusalem. It is unacceptable that Arab states don’t take a stand on this.”
Alain Gresh, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique in Paris, said that the political climate was right for Gulf states to apply pressure on Israel.
“It is the right moment to show clearly to Israel that the continuation of the occupation policy has a price, and not only a political price but even an economic price,” he said.
“I can’t say if the Gulf states will do it. The political climate is right especially after the Gaza [war] and the Goldstone report. Public opinion in Europe is that we can’t let the [status quo] continue. If the [Gulf states] take a strong position now it will have an effect not only on Israel but also on Western positions on Israel.”
He said however that Israel being a “legal entity” meant that European companies could not legally apply a blanket boycott on the state, but the two companies could legitimately withdraw based on the argument that the project is being built on occupied territory. “This can be defended in any court,” he said.
Were the companies to withdraw, he added, they would likely attribute the decision publicly to reasons other than occupation, “but everybody will understand”.
Gulf News did not receive a response from Veolia by the time of going to print.