Israel protests over France's Orange's to cut ties with Israeli Partner
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Israel has demanded an apology from French telecoms giant Orange after its boss said the company is planning to cut its ties with Israeli mobile phone operator Partner. Responding to claims that Partner operates in Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories, Orange chairman Stéphane Richard said the Paris-based firm intends to withdaw from Israel.
Richard's statement has provoked an outcry in the Israeli media and the Israeli foreign affairs ministry announce that its Paris embassy sought "immediate clarification" from the French government.
Several hundred Partner employees demonstrated against Orange on Thursday and the Israeli company accused Richard of giving in to pro-Palestinian campaigners.
"I am very, very angry. I think that what he said is the result of very significant pressure from pro-Palestinian [groups]," Partner CEO Isaac Benbenisti told Israeli army radio.
His predecessor, Chaim Romano, threatened legal action.
"If Richard wants to leave, it will cost him a lot of money," he said.
In May a report by five French NGOs and two trade unions accused Partner of human rights abuses by operating in settlements that the UN regards as illegal and called on Orange to break its ties with the Israeli company.
"Our intention is to withdraw from Israel," Richard said when callenged to respond during a visit to Cairo on Wednesday. "It will take time, he said, but "for sure we will do it".
"I am ready to do this tomorrow morning," Richard added. "But without exposing Orange to huge risks."
Partner pays a fee to Orange, in which state-run France Telecom holds a majority stake, to use its name and logo.
The agreement with Partner is Orange's only significant deal with a company that is not a subsidiary, although it has a presence in 29 countries.
The contract was recently amended so that it would expire in 2025.
Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Wednesday wrote to Richard saying she was "taken aback" by reports of his statement and asking for clarification.
The Israeli parliament on Wednesday debated the international boycott and divestment campaign that has put it under increasing pressure recently.
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