The French telecommunications group Orange plans to end its cooperation with Israeli operator Partner Communications Company over the latter’s illegal activities in the Palestinian territories.
“Our intention is to withdraw from Israel. It will take time… [but] for sure we will do it,” said Stéphane Richard, the chief executive and chairman of the worldwide mobile phone network, on Wednesday.
“I am ready to do this tomorrow morning… but without exposing Orange to huge risks,” he added.
Back in May, rights groups urged Orange’s officials to denounce “attacks on human rights” and take action against the Israeli firm which is working under a license of the French company.
The groups said that Partner is involved in the illegal construction of new settlement units in the occupied West Bank and thus should be ostracized.
Orange had previously stated that the contract with Partner was inherited from the past and that it had no role to play in the Israeli company’s management and strategies, a stance later modified under mounting pressure from the rights groups.
Partner CEO Haim Romano expressed his disappointment with Orange’s decision, saying he “regretted what was said”.
In another reaction, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely wrote to the Orange chief executive, asking for clarification.
“I must admit to have been taken aback by these reports which do not become a responsible global company such as Orange,” she said, adding, “I am confident that these reports do not reflect the intent of your company. I therefore urge you to clarify the matter as soon as possible.”
More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds in 1967.
The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in the 1967 war and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on the occupied lands.
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