RAMALLAH, West Bank — Activists from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement launched a campaign in the West Bank on Wednesday, calling on people to boycott products made by six major Israeli food companies.
They said the campaign was a response to Israel's recent decision to halt the transfer of tax revenues to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority. Israel took the step after the Palestinian decision to join the International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians have threatened to pursue war crimes charges against Israel.
Mahmoud Aloul, the Fatah official overseeing the campaign, said shop owners were given two weeks to clear their shelves of the Israeli products.
"Activists of all Palestinian factions will be touring the territories to confiscate the products after the two-week deadline," Aloul said.
Abbas' Palestinian Authority, fearful of breaching past agreements with Israel, asked the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization to lead the campaign, officials said.
The campaign targets Tnuva, Strauss, Elite, Osem, Prigat and Jafora. Tnuva and Strauss declined comment, while the other companies did not return messages or could not be reached after business hours. Israel's Foreign Ministry also declined comment.
The Palestinians have called for similar boycotts in the past, but the campaigns have never succeeded because of a lack of Palestinian alternatives and demand for higher-quality Israeli goods.
Shopkeepers complained that two weeks was not enough time to clear their shelves. Some also said that Palestinian businesses don't have the capacity to cover the needs of the local market.
"There is no way for the Palestinian milk companies to fulfill the needs of the local market" said Faraj Abu Faraj, a shopkeeper in Ramallah. He nonetheless said he would comply with the order.
Yitzhak Gal, an expert on the Middle East economy at Tel Aviv University, estimated Israeli food exports to the West Bank at about $700 million.
"In some products, the Palestinian market is very important for the Israeli companies," he said. But he said it would be difficult for the Palestinians to enforce the boycott, and predicted Israel will resume the tax transfers and the boycott will end.