The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the EU Observer have both covered a report published by a consortium of NGOs which highlights the EU’s trade relations with illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. ‘Trading Away Peace: How Europe Helps Sustain Israeli Settlements’, makes a number of recommendations that the EU and its member-states can “ensure their policies do not directly or indirectly support entrenchment and expansion of settlements” which the EU recognizes as illegal under international law.
From the Guardian:
“The European Union imports around 15 times more produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank than Palestinian products, despite its consistent condemnation of Israel's settlement policy as illegal under international law, according to a report.
“Based on figures supplied by Israel to the World Bank, the estimated value of settlement imports to the EU is $300m (£187m) a year. The comparative figure for Palestinian produce is less than $20m. "With more than 4 million Palestinians and over 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied territory, this means the EU imports over 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian," says Trading Away Peace: How Europe Helps Sustain Illegal Israeli Settlements, published by a consortium of 22 organisations across Europe.
“Imports include agricultural produce, such as dates, grapes, avocados, herbs, and citrus fruit; cosmetics using Dead Sea minerals marketed under the Ahava brand; and SodaStream domestic carbonation devices.
“Many settlement goods are misleadingly labelled "Made in Israel". The report calls on retailers to provide clear and accurate labelling to allow consumers to make informed choices.
“The report draws attention to a "discriminatory two-tier system" in the West Bank, under which settler businesses have the advantage of free movement unhindered by checkpoints and the security barrier, and greater access to land and water resources.
“It points out that the EU is the Palestinian Authority's biggest donor, allocating $677m last year. It cites a World Bank estimate that if Israel lifted its restrictions on Palestinian agriculture, the Palestinian economy would no longer need to depend on foreign aid.
“According to the report, "the settler population is growing at a much faster rate (an average of 5.3% annually over the last decade) than the Israeli population as a whole (1.8%)".
“It recommends that the EU, as a minimum measure, adopts the UK and Danish policy of encouraging correct consumer labelling of settlement produce.
“It points out that the EU, as Israel's leading trading partner, receives 20% of total Israel exports. Settlement exports represent approximately 2% of total exports.”
In his foreword to the report, the former EU External Relations Commissioner and former Dutch Foreign Minister, Hans Van Den Broek, writes “Dozens of official EU statements and positions reaffirm the illegality of the settlements under international law and regard them as major obstacles to peace.
“However...So far, we have refrained from deploying our considerable political and economic leverage vis-à-vis Israel to contain developments on the ground that contradict our basic values and that undermine our strategic interests.
“If Europe wants to preserve the two-state solution, it must act without delay and take the lead.”
The report makes twelve recommendations for European governments and the EU, “to ensure their policies do not directly or indirectly support entrenchment and expansion of settlements.” They include the following:
• Ensure correct consumer labelling of all settlement products
• Discourage companies from trading with and investing in settlements
• Ban imports of settlement products
• Ensure settlement products do not benefit from preferential market access
• Exclude settlements from bilateral agreements and cooperation instruments
• Exclude settlement products and companies from public procurement
• Remove organisations funding settlements from tax deduction systems
• Prevent financial transactions supporting settlements and related activities
• Discourage citizens from buying property in settlements
• Issue guidelines for European tour operators
• Draw up a list of companies mis-stating the origin of settlement goods
• Insist that Israel disaggregates settlement data for the OECD
The EU’s trade relations with Israel have been the subject of some debate in recent months following the meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council in July to upgrade relations, and the passing in the European Parliament of the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA). The EU’s lawyers however, have advised the terms of the ACAA would put the EU foul of its own compliance and regulations.
It is vitally important that the EU and member states reform their policies to be consistent with their stated commitments to international law on the illegality of the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Whilst steps have been taken which make the British policy on Israeli settlements clear- such as the guidance on food labeling - as this new report points out, serious inconsistencies continue to exist. Oxfam’s Chief Executive, Dame Barbara Stocking in 2009 warned that “Trade with Israeli settlements – which are illegal under international law – contributes to their economic viability and serves to legitimise them. It is also clear from our development work in West Bank communities that settlements have led to the denial of rights and create poverty for many Palestinians."
And as we stated in a letter to the Foreign Secretary, “while declarations of condemnation at the stalling of the peace process, of the Gaza blockade, and of growing illegal settlement activity by EU leaders, and the British Government, have been loud and unequivocal, the will to match words with actions is as weak as ever.”
You can write to your MP and MEP, drawing their attention to the report and asking them to raise the issue of trade with illegal Israeli settlements in their respective parliaments. Details of how to contact them can be found here.
The full report is available to read here.
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