West Bank Burger King defies order to close doors

Franchise owner seeks legal means to stay open

August 28, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MAALE ADUMIM — MAALE ADUMIM, Occupied West Bank -- The Burger King in this Jewish settlement remained open for business yesterday, defiant in the face of a controversy that has bedeviled Middle East diplomacy for decades: Where are Israel's borders?

On Thursday, the fast-food chain's corporate headquarters ordered the Burger King here to close because the franchise is for Israel and the restaurant is in the disputed former Arab territory that Israel has occupied since the end of the 1967 war.

Israeli-American businessman Mishulam Riklis, the owner of the 46 Burger King restaurants in Israel, is taking legal action to make sure the Jewish settlement outlet remains open.

And Benny Kashriel, Maale Adumim's mayor, couldn't be happier.

Kashriel said he will lead a boycott of Burger King franchises the world over if the Miami-based company insists on closing the Burger King counter in the settlement mall.

Burger King's parent company is Diageo PLC of Britain.

"The friends of Maale Adumim, hundreds of millions of Christians and Jews in the United States and Europe, are working now against this decision and are lobbying the White House and the governments of Europe," he said, while standing in front of the disputed Burger King counter. "They don't have to involve politics in the food business."

Lobbying campaign

A lobbying campaign by American Arabs and Muslims succeeded Thursday in persuading Burger King to forbid its Israeli franchisee to operate in Maale Adumim. Burger King in Miami contended that it had been misled by the franchisee about the location of the Maale Adumim outlet.

But Riklis, chairman of Rikamor Ltd., issued a statement in Los Angeles saying: "Rikamor received all the requested permits according to Burger King's world criteria. That's why I cannot put up with this letter. Today I have instructed Rikamor's director general in Israel to act immediately in accordance with all legal means at the company's disposal in accordance with Israeli law to receive immediate legal help."

Leading American Jewish organizations came to the defense of Riklis and the settlement.

The dispute over the Burger King outlet began shortly after its opening a month ago. The Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem is the largest on the West Bank with 25,000 residents.

Ten American Arab and Muslim groups campaigned to have Burger King close it. The Cairo-based Arab League planned to discuss a possible boycott against Burger King in the region at its Sept. 12 meeting.

Burger King operates 84 outlets in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar. Its competitor, McDonald's, has a policy against opening franchises in the disputed occupied territories.

`This is nonsense'

Elisheva Wolster, a 39-year-old mother from Maale Adumim, was undaunted as she treated her children to lunch at Burger King.

"If Burger King doesn't want us to eat in their restaurant, we'll eat somewhere else," she said. "I know a lot of Palestinians who work in the area. They eat here. Why not eat together? This is nonsense."

"I thought the Arab boycott was over," Maale Adumim resident Shlomi Braitbar said, referring to the decades-long Arab ban on doing business with Israel that preceded the 1993 peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kashriel, the mayor, said he received several telephone calls yesterday from angry settlement residents who wanted "revenge" and told him to stop providing help to local Palestinian villages.

He cited an example of a building that collapsed two months ago in Ramallah, a West Bank city controlled by the Palestinian Authority. "The first rescue team was from Maale Adumim," said Kashriel. "We think as good neighbors we have to support them."

He said about 1,000 Palestinians work in the settlement's industrial complex.

Suburban community

Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are a hot button in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Their future will be determined in the final negotiations between the two sides.

Today about 160,000 settlers live in 144 communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In some ways, Maale Adumim has already become a part of greater Jerusalem. It is a suburban community of hilltop houses and apartments within a 15-minute drive of occupied East Jerusalem.

Many Israelis and Palestinians concede that the settlement will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any final peace deal.

Khalil Khayat, a Palestinian who was shopping in the Maale Adumim mall, said he would like the Burger King to remain open. "I want it open. Now it's peace," said the vegetable vendor from the neighboring Palestinian village of Azariya.

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