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Bethlehem mayor: Boycott Israel until we get state

Dec. 15, 2011 9:39 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 16, 2011 3:10 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The mayor of Bethlehem said Thursday after his annual Christmas address that the international community should boycott Israel until it accepts Palestinian aspirations for independence.

"We have a right to self-determination," Victor Batarseh told reporters in Bethlehem.

"We are peaceful people. We want peace," he said after announcing the start of Christmas festivities. But it must be a "just and legal peace based on UN resolutions," and the "only way Israel will agree to peace is if it is forced.

"I don't mean violently, I mean it should be boycotted. Boycott Israel culturally, educationally, in sports and in trade," Batarseh continued, "and Israel will make peace in six months. Believe me."

He compared Palestine's situation to apartheid South Africa, before it abandoned racial discrimination in the face of a global boycott, sanctions and divestment movement and local resistance.

The mayor's position differs from the official policy of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which calls for boycotting settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem but not Israel.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other leftists frequently call for Israel to be boycotted. Batarseh was elected to office in 2005 on a list of PFLP-affiliated candidates.

He says the government of Israel makes it clearer as time goes by that peace can only be achieved through pressure. "Mr Netanyahu and his government are still building settlements," he said.

This is despite the PLO agreeing "to accept a viable Palestinian state on just 22 percent of our historic homeland. The extremist and right-wing government of Israel won't even give us that," he said.

"They act as if this is their land and we are the foreigners."

On the topic of UNESCO, he said Palestine's admission to the UN cultural body had spread "joy and merriment" in Bethlehem "because we achieved one more step toward joining the United Nations."

"I call, from here, on all leaders around the world to use their brains" rather than allow the US and certain European countries to block Palestine's admission to the UN, he said.
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