International firms drop out of Israeli tender over boycott fears

The Israel Ports Company supervising the tender avoided publicly identifying the companies that expressed interest due to political sensitivities

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Leading international companies bidding to build private seaports dropped out of the Israeli government’s tender due to concerns over the political repercussions, a report said on Tuesday.

The Israeli daily Haaretz said that Royal Boskalis Westminster, a Dutch operator of ports that had submitted a proposal under the name Holland Terminal in the prequalification stage last December, dropped out shortly thereafter. More recently, Italy’s Condote de Agua withdrew after passing the prequalification process, the report said.

The report said the Israeli government is developing private seaports in Haifa and Ashdod to create competition with costly and inefficient state-owned facilities. Officials, led by Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, see port reform as a national project that will lower the price of imported goods and the cost of living.

Haaretz said that the companies that had initially expressed their interest in the PQ stage last April made their decisions to drop out in recent months as boycott pressure on Israel has grown. The deadline for submitting bids was Monday, the report said.

It added that in addition to the companies that withdrew from bidding, a third company – Jan De Nul from Belgium – only agreed to submit its bid after it was permitted to do so through a company registered in Luxembourg called Ludreco, out of fear of jeopardizing its business in the Arab world.

According to the report, three other companies also dropped out of the bidding over the last several months – FCC and Cyes, two Spanish companies; and Germany’s Möbius Bau. Those are believed to have dropped out due to financial problems or because they couldn’t agree to terms with the Israeli partners they were jointly making bids with.

The report said that the Israel Ports Company, which is supervising the tender, has scrupulously avoided publicly identifying the companies that had expressed an interest over the last months out of political sensitivities. Monday, it declined to officially name any of the bidders, it said.

On Monday, the Hebrew Walla news service said that Deutsche Bank, the largest German bank, has included Israel’s Bank Hapoalim on a list of companies who are ethically questionable for investment. The move follows similar ones by Swedish Nordea Bank, which is the largest bank in Scandinavia, and the Norwegian Danske Bank, which is the largest bank in Denmark.

The two banks have announced they will boycott Israeli banks because they operate in occupied Palestinian territories.

Europe has voiced continuous criticism over Israeli construction in occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank, and several months ago published new guidelines which boycott Israeli entities operating beyond the 1967 lines.

Israeli media report say that there are increasing concerns in Israel over a Palestinian-led movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). The boycott has been growing recently, mainly in Europe, where some businesses and pension funds have cut investments or trade with Israeli firms they say are connected to West Bank settlements.

BDS activists say they promote different objectives, with some focusing on a boycott of the settlements and others saying everything Israeli must be shunned until there is a peace deal. BDS supporters argue that Israel will withdraw from war-won lands only if it has a price to pay.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid related to the boycott issue Monday at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in occupied Jerusalem, saying that if current peace talks with the Palestinian collapse, it will be “nothing less than devastating” to the welfare of Israeli citizens.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.

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