The chief executive of French telecoms group Orange told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday he profoundly regretted remarks he made last week which he said were misinterpreted to make it sound as if he supported a boycott of Israel.
On a special visit to try to mend fences after the comments at a conference in Cairo, CEO Stephane Richard met Netanyahu for talks at his private office, with the press kept away.
Afterwards, Richard issued a statement saying the comments attributed to him were taken out of context, adding that Orange was fully committed to business in Israel and had no interest in engaging in politics.
"I have been profoundly and personally distressed to observe the results of the misunderstanding and the distortion of my recent statements," said the 53-year-old executive, who has been pilloried in Israel. "I deeply regret the impact resulting from the context and interpretation of those statements."
In Cairo, Richard was quoted as saying he would terminate a licensing agreement that Orange has with Israel's Partner Communications "tomorrow morning" if the contracts allowed. Partner pays a fee to use Orange's brand in Israel.
The remark was interpreted as Richard supporting an economic boycott of Israel, along the lines of that advocated by the BDS movement - Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions - a pro-Palestinian campaign aimed at pressuring Israel to withdraw from territories the Palestinians want for their future state by hurting it economically
Israel protested Richard's remarks at the highest level, including to the French government, which owns 25 percent of Orange. Netanyahu has called the remarks part of an anti-semitic campaign to delegitimize Israel.
Richard said he had been speaking of ending a licensing deal in Israel on purely business grounds. Orange has spoken in the past of wanting to take back full control of its brand.
"This meeting gives me the opportunity to say clearly and unambiguously that Orange does not take part in any boycott in Israel or elsewhere," he said.
"We are doing business, we are doing communication, we are here to connect people, certainly not to participate in any kind of boycott," he added.
He also stressed that Orange had no intention to withdraw from Israel, but had instead intended to "further develop" its operations in the country.
"Israel is a fantastic place to be in the digital industry and of course our will is to strengthen and to keep on investing here," he said.
"It's no secret that the remarks you made last week were widely seen as an attack on Israel and so your visit here is an opportunity to set the record straight," Netanyahu told Richard.
"We seek a genuine and secure peace with our Palestinian neighbors,but that can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions. It will not be achieved through boycotts and through threats of boycotts," the prime minister continued.
Partner operates under the Orange brand name through a licensing deal that is believed to expire in 10 years but has no other connection to Orange.
Itamar Eichner contributed to this report.