Orange has no plans to quit Israel, its chief executive officer said over the weekend, reversing itself following a row over its stated plan to end a licensing deal with a local firm.
Israel protested to France after CEO Stephane Richard said the 25 percent state-owned telecom group planned to terminate an arrangement with Israel’s Partner Communications, drawing accusations Orange was capitulating to the pro-Palestinian boycott movement.
“Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world,” Richard told the French Press Agency.
“Our decision on the use of the brand is motivated — as it is all over the world — solely by our brand strategy. Let me make it very clear that the Orange Group is in Israel to stay.”
Richard had been quoted by media reports as saying at a news conference in Cairo on Wednesday that he was willing to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel “tomorrow morning,” were it not for prohibitive penalties for breach of contract.
An Orange spokesman maintained that there had been a “huge misunderstanding,” and that Richard had not been referring to exiting the country.
In a recording of excerpts of the conference emailed by the spokesman, Richard said Orange had negotiated a termination date in the contract regarding the use of the Orange brand.
“Now…we have the capacity to terminate this contract in the future,” he said. “Our intention is to terminate the contract. Our intention is as soon as possible from a contractual point of view and preserving our interests of course, our intention is to withdraw Orange brand from Israel.”
He added: “Our group policy is not to license our brand when we’re not the operator… There isn’t a single country in the world where we do that, so there’s no reason to do it in Israel either… We want to control our brand.”
Partner said the only link between it and Orange was the brand, used by the Israeli company since 1998.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this week demanded France publicly renounce what he called “the distressing statement and action” taken by Orange.
In response, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius issued a statement that fell considerably short of a condemnation.
A senior French diplomat said Richard’s comments had been “clumsy.”
France issued a warning to French investors a year ago that investments in Yehudah and Shomron carried legal risks, a move which raised concerns in Israel.
Meanwhile, Partner spurned Richard’s reversal.
“His recent declarations are no more than a smoke screen to mislead public opinion in Israel and abroad. His harmful comments, his apology and its vague and evasive formulation continue to cause huge damage to the Orange brand in Israel and hurt the country’s citizens,” Partner said in a statement.
Partner also noted that it “had not received any official notification from France telecom to date. We demand a direct dialogue with Orange CEO Stephane Richard who until today has avoided talking directly with Partner — puzzling behavior in our eyes.”