French telecom giant in hot water over Israel partnership
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French telecom giant Orange is flouting Paris’s investment guidelines by allowing an Israeli company involved in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to use its name, according to a NGO report released on Wednesday.
The report was compiled by a well-respected French aid organisation known as CCFD - acronym for Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development – and backed by five pro-Palestinian NGOs and two left-wing unions.
“Due to its business relationship with Israeli communications company Partner, Orange indirectly takes part in the backing and strengthening of Israeli settlements located in Occupied Palestinian Territories, which are considered illegal under international law”, says CCFD on its website.
The report stressed that Orange - 25% of whose capital is in the French state’s hands - is disregarding the French Foreign ministry’s own guidelines on investing in Israel.
In June 2014, the French Foreign ministry warned citizens against engaging in economic activities in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem. Though not legally binding, the statement made it clear that Paris would frown upon French investments in the areas captured by the Israeli army back in 1967.
"Due to the fact that the settlements are illegal in international law, financial activity in the settlements such as money transfers, investments, acquisition of property, provision of supplies or any other economic activities that benefit the settlements involves risks," a statement on the ministry’s website read in French.
Cashing in on a captive Palestinian market
The CCFD report asserts that Partner has built more than one hundred telecommunication antennas on confiscated Palestinian land, has at least four shops in Israeli settlements, and benefits from Israeli-imposed restrictions against Palestinian telecommunication competitors.
This echoes a long-standing trade dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the latter complaining that Israeli authorities are putting Palestinian firms at a disadvantage in their own market by limiting the construction of telecommunication infrastructures and refusing to release 3G frequencies to Palestinian operators.
In contrast, Partner can display on its website a map showing Orange 4G coverage all over Greater Israel – which includes the Jewish State’s territory and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with no boundaries between them. This coverage allows the Israeli telecommunications firm to cash in on the captive Palestinian market: according to Partner’s 2012 annual report, 30% of its customers are “non-Israelis”.
Orange for the sake of [Israel’s] soldiers
The French telecom giant reacted to the report’s publication by underplaying its connection with Partner. “We have no capitalist or operational links with Partner. Our only link consists of a brand license agreement that allows this carrier to use the name Orange”, a company spokesperson told French newspaper Le Figaro on Wednesday.
The terms of the contract between the two companies were renegotiated in 2011. According to Globes, an Israeli business publication, Partner was ready to pay 25 million shekels (5.7 million euros) in royalties per year for the use of the Orange brand, “based on an agreed-upon formula of a percentage of revenue”.
The CCFD report comes as Partner’s sponsorship activities come under increased scrutiny. The Israeli company has long been part of Israel’s “adopt a soldier” scheme, which allows the country’s companies to show their patriotism by funding cultural, recreation and welfare activities for the soldiers of a given unit.
In a paragraph entitled “Orange for the sake of our soldiers”, Partner describes how it adopted the “Ezuz” tank battalion four years ago. This armoured unit was involved in the 2014 Gaza war, which triggered international outrage and led to a scathing independent report over the Israeli military’s willingness to inflict "massive and unprecedented harm" on Palestinian civilians.