McDonald’s Israel confirmed it has turned down an offer to open in a mall being built in Ariel, a 35-year-old town of some 20,000 inhabitants in the West Bank north of Jerusalem.
The Associated Press described the decision as “adding a prominent name to an international movement to boycott Israel’s settlements,” although McDonald’s Israel said the decision was in line with its long-implemented policy of not opening stores in the disputed territories.
The owner of McDonald’s Israel, Omri Padan, is a founder of the left-wing, anti-settlement group Peace Now.
Approached for the company’s position on the matter, a Chicago-based McDonald’s spokeswoman told CNSNews.com simply, “Our partner in Israel has determined that this particular location is not part of his growth plan.”
The future of the settlements – Jewish communities located on land Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War and the Palestinians want included in a future independent state – is among the most contentious issues to be resolved in any future negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel Thursday for another round of meetings as he seeks to revive talks between the two sides.
Successive Israeli governments have ruled out a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, and most Israelis expect a future Palestinian state to exclude at least some of the more than 120 officially-recognized settlements built over more than four decades, Ariel among them.
The decision by McDonald’s Israel not to open a branch in Ariel, first reported by an Israeli business publication, was welcomed by activists in the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) campaign, which says it aims to isolate Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”
AP quoted BDS movement spokeswoman Rafeef Ziadah as saying the move “will encourage other corporations to end their complicity in Israel’s occupation.”
It is drawing strong criticism in Israel. Settler leaders and conservative lawmakers quoted in Israeli media called for a boycott of the fast-food giant, with some urging customers to divert their support instead to a local hamburger chain, Burger Ranch, which does plan to open in Ariel. Burger Ranch has 107 restaurants across Israel, compared to more than 170 McDonald’s stores.
On his Facebook page Israel’s Economy Minister, leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett, promised to eat a burger at Burger Ranch’s Ariel store on the day it opens.
In a column in the Israeli Hayom daily, Ariel mayor Eliyahu Shviro called the McDonald’s decision unfortunate and said it “discriminates against residents of the city and the surrounding area, both Jews and Palestinians.”
“In my view, all cultural and commercial issues should be separated from politics,” he said. “Commerce is a bridge that produces conditions conducive for a system of mutual relations, regardless of religion, race or gender.”
Ariel made headlines earlier this year when it was reported that the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv had invited students from every accredited Israeli university to attend a speech in Jerusalem by President Obama – except those at the one in Ariel, which has 13,000 students.
In 1999, Burger King opened a restaurant in Ma’aleh Adumim, an Israeli town of almost 40,000 on disputed land near Jerusalem, and a coalition of American Muslim groups launched a boycott aimed at pressurizing the company to reconsider.
Taking up the call the Arab League announced it would vote on whether to declare a boycott against Burger King, a decision which if taken would have forced the company to close branches in Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Burger King’s Miami-based headquarters then withdrew the right of its Israeli franchise holder to use its brand in Ma’aleh Adumim. (A subsequent local franchisee withdrew Burger King from the Israeli market altogether in 2010.)
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)