Steve WeizmanIsraeli government and business leaders are alarmed by a growing international boycott movement and the likely effect of EU measures against exports from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank . According to Israeli media reports, Cabinet ministers are to meet next week to hammer out a strategy against a growing international campaign to boycott trade linked to settlements. And a group of top Israeli businesspeople has launched a publicity campaign urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make peace with the Palestinians for the sake of the economy. In the latest developments, Norway's sovereign wealth fund blacklisted Thursday two Israeli companies involved in building settlements in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and US actress Scarlett Johansson stepped down as Oxfam ambassador amid a storm over her ad campaign for a firm operating in a settlement in the occupied West Bank . These incidents highlight the creeping success of a campaign to boycott trade linked to settlements built on Palestinian land seized during the Six Day War of 1967 and viewed by the international community as illegal. Meanwhile, the European Union recently moved to block all grants and funding to any Israeli entity operating beyond the 1967 lines, sparking growing alarm in Israel . Lars Faaborg-Andersen , the EU's ambassador to Israel , said last week that, in addition to coordinated action by the body, Israel's constant settlement construction was fueling private moves to boycott products and services linked to the settlements. He said initiatives in Europe to require separate labeling for goods manufactured in the settlements were gathering pace every time Israel announced a new round of construction. Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid has also warned that the breakdown of current peace talks with the Palestinians could strengthen the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and deal a body blow to the economy. Israel is a country dependent on exports, with 33 percent of its foreign trade conducted with the European Union , he told a security conference. " Europe is our primary market," he said. "Even a 20 percent fall in our trade with Europe would mean 9,800 workers being fired immediately," he said. "Even a partial European boycott would be felt by every Israeli, and the cost of living would go up," he added. "Exports will drop by some 20 billion shekels ( $5.7 billion / 4.2 billion euros ) annually; GDP will drop some 11 billion shekels ," he said. Last May, the Palestine Liberation Organization published an estimate of EU imports of goods produced on settlements, which it put at 229 million euros a year. While some Israeli companies set up in occupied territory to take advantage of tax breaks, low rents and soft loans, others do so for ideological reasons, believing in the Jewish religious imperative to settle in the biblical land.
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