French telecom giant Orange plans to cut ties with Israeli communications company Partner, Orange’s chairman Stéphane Richard said on Wednesday, following criticism in recent weeks over Partner’s involvement in the Occupied Palestinian territories.
A handful of French nonprofits and two unions in May had condemned Partner, which has a license to use Orange’s brand, for contributing to the economic viability of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and called for Orange to sever ties with the Israeli company.
"Our intention is to withdraw from Israel. It will take time," said Richard at a news conference in Egypt on Wednesday, adding, "For sure we will do it."
"I am ready to do this tomorrow morning... but without exposing Orange to huge risks," he said, referring to the company’s legal and financial consequences.
Orange has previously said it inherited the contract with Partner, in which it holds no shares or voting rights, and that it has no influence over the Israeli firm's management and strategies.
A report by French aid organisation Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development claimed that Orange, a quarter of whose capital is owned by the French state, had flouted the government’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.
The report said that Partner has built more than one hundred telecommunication antennas on confiscated Palestinian land, owns at least four shops in Israeli settlements, and benefits from Israeli-imposed restrictions against Palestinian telecommunication competitors.
Israeli deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely wrote to Orange’s Richard asking for clarification on his remarks on Wednesday.
"I must admit to have been taken aback by these reports which do not become a responsible global company such as Orange," she said in a letter, a copy of which was seen by AFP.
"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."
Partner's website showed no immediate reaction to Richard's comments.
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