BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian officials in South Africa released a statement clarifying that they are not opposed to the boycott of Israel on Friday.
The statement comes in the wake of controversial anti-boycott statements made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while he was visiting South Africa to mark the death of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
The statement, which was released jointly by the Embassy of Palestine in South Africa and BDS South Africa, stopped short of declaring its support for the boycott of Israel.
It did, however, confirm its support for the boycott of Israeli settlement products and stressing that it "respect(s) and uphold(s) the right of Palestinian civil society to initiate and lead local and global BDS campaigns."
The statement also expressed "deep appreciation" for the efforts of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement "to uphold international law and universal principles of human rights."
"With the view that the Israeli settlements are illegitimate and an obstruction to a just peace, the Palestinian Authority has accordingly initiated an official boycott of all Israeli settlement products in the occupied Palestinian territory," the statement read, pointing out that it supports this move "as a first step."
The statement highlighted the historical importance of the international BDS solidarity movement in defeating the apartheid system in South Africa, and stressed that "if Nelson Mandela and the South African people defeated apartheid, the Palestinians too will defeat the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands."
The statement was released amid an uproar after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told South African newspaper "The Star" on December 11 that he does not support the boycott of Israel.
"No we do not support the boycott of Israel," Abbas is reported to have told a press conference during his visit to South Africa to mark the death of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
"But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal … But we don't ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel."
The statements provoked outrage among activists, who saw in his words a condemnation of the growing movement to isolate Israel politically, economically, and culturally in order to support the Palestinian struggle.
The statement released by the Embassy of Palestine in South Africa, however, disputed this.
"Recent comments made in South Africa by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization), regarding the boycott of Israeli settlements and products, seem to have been taken out of context and misconstrued by some members of the media and members of the Israeli lobby," the statement argued.
Prior to the recent statement's release, prominent BDS activist Omar Barghouti stressed the the widespread support for the boycott of Israel within Palestinian civil society.
"Any Palestinian official who lacks a democratic mandate and any real public support, therefore, cannot claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people when it comes to deciding our strategies of resistance to Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid," he told alternative media outlet Electronic Intifada on December 12.
"Any Palestinian official who today explicitly speaks against boycotting Israel – particularly in a country like South Africa, where the ruling party, leading trade unions, churches and other civil society groups have warmly endorsed BDS – only shows how aloof he is from his own people’s aspirations for freedom, justice and equality, and how oblivious he is to our struggle for their inalienable rights," Barghouti added.