EU fed up with Israeli intransigence on settlements

March 5, 2013
Sarah Benton

The first report from Ha’aretz on the EU and settlement products is followed by a Reuters story on the EU consuls’ report.

Settlement products are tainted goods

Even if last week’s leaked recommendation by EU consuls to impose a strict settlement produce boycott would have minimal economic impact on Israel, its true power is to show that the EU is simply fed up of Israel’s pro-settlement, anti-negotiations and anti-European behavior.

By Daniella Peled, Ha’aretz
March 03, 2013

Food labeling is a hot topic in Europe right now. Following the horsemeat scandal, with traces of equine flesh found in beef products across the continent, there have never been such strident calls for responsible sourcing of food products clearly tracing their origin.

The next big thing may be product labeling of a different kind. That’s what we can take away from last week’s leaked report by EU consuls based in East Jerusalem and Ramallah [see below] , which recommended stringent measures be imposed on imports from the occupied West Bank.

Israeli diplomats have been sanguine about the report, despite its harsh language. And indeed, it’s unlikely we will see the kind of radical changes the report recommends any time soon – measures such as opposing direct investment in settlement ventures, or refusing academic grants to settlements or their residents. The document went as far as suggesting EU tour operators could avoid settler-owned businesses, and that member states explore the possibility of banning “known violent settlers” from entering the EU.

Even a European-wide ban on the import of produce from the West Bank is improbable; the 27-member body is hardly likely to vote unanimously on such an issue, and in any case, there has to be action at the level of the UN Security Council before the EU instigates such sanctions.

Ireland, currently holding the presidency of the council of the EU, supports a wholesale ban but admits there is no reasonable chance of seeing this happen. Yet there is one part of the proposals which touches on an issue which comes up again and again in EU circles: The correct labeling of settlement imports.

The framework is already there. Settlement produce has long been excluded from the preferential treatment received by goods from Israel proper, although this is not fully implemented.

Last week also saw a letter from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to all member states calling for this existing legislation to be enacted, and she makes the connection herself.

“Closely linked to this is the question of products imported into the EU originating beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders and their correct labeling on the EU market,” Ashton wrote.

Individual countries, such as the U.K. and Denmark, have already taken action themselves to label products from theWest Bank. And a wider initiative is well within the realms of possibility (Further afield South Africa has approved the labeling of settlement goods, a move which Israeli officials, without the apparent trace of any irony, denounced as “apartheid”)So what would the effect of such labeling be?

Europe currently imports settlement goods worth $300 million a year; a report released last October, Trading Away Peace, purported to show how European trade actually shored up the settlement enterprise.

“This is approximately fifteen times the annual value of EU imports from Palestinians,” the report, produced by a coalition of NGOs, said. “With more than four million Palestinians and over 500,000 Israeli settlers living in theOccupied Territory this means the EU imports over 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian.”

But while EU is Israel’s biggest partner, no-one believes that stricter labeling would have a massive affect on the Israeli economy. According to the European commission, EU imports from Israel are dominated by chemicals, machinery and precious stones – not dates or oranges. Even an outright ban would have limited impact – agricultural produce from the fertile Jordan valley is not a crucial component of Israeli exports to the EU, and the domestic market could absorb them.

Last autumn the then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rather disingenuously warned EU foreign ministers that labeling would hurt precisely those they were trying to help, with the immediate effect of hitting “the income of Palestinian residents, many of whom work in industry in the settlements.”

No-one is going to buy that. It suits Jerusalem’s purpose to willfully muddle wholesale BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel – with the specific targeting of the settlements. The 2011 law allowing lawsuits against Israelis calling for boycotts against any institution or area under its control demonstrates this strategy. And labeling does not equal the imposition of a boycott, although Israeli fears that it would be the thin end of the wedge.

The EU is simply fed up. Fed up of investing billions in supporting Palestinian state-building which goes nowhere, fed up of being the laughable counterpoint to U.S. support, fed up of Israeli insinuations that criticism of the occupation is some kind of dark, lingering European hostility to the Jewish state itself.

The traditional role of the bloc was to pay for Israeli-Palestinian peace adventures, while other players made the big decisions. Now, maybe, it can use its famed bureaucracy to make a telling political point – not one that has a major economic impact, but one that will affect Israel’s brand in the same way that consumers in Europe now think twice before buying a frozen lasagna.

Daniella Peled is editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and has written widely from across the Middle East and Afghanistan.  

EU report: Settlements biggest threat to Palestinian statehood

By Ori Lewis, Reuters
February 27, 2013

JERUSALEM – Israeli settlement construction on occupied land poses the most serious threat to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, European Union consuls general based in the region said in a report released on Wednesday.

The non-binding document by the EU diplomats in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territory captured in a 1967 war, urged European states to be diligent in ensuring settlements are excluded from trade benefits enjoyed by Israel.

“Settlement construction remains the biggest single threat to the two-state solution. It is systematic, deliberate and provocative,” the report said.

Israeli leaders have spurned international calls to stop settlement activity on land Palestinians seek for a future state. Citing historical and Biblical links to Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel says it has a right to build there.

The report called for strict application of an EU-Israel trade pact to ensure products from settlements do not receive preferential treatment under the accord in European markets.

It also urged EU states “not to support … research, education and technological cooperation” and to discourage financial investment in Israeli businesses operating in occupied territory.

European countries, the report added, should consider barring entry to their territory of “known violent settlers”.

Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, called the report unhelpful to efforts to further peace in the region.

“A diplomat’s mission is to build bridges and bring people together, not to foster confrontation. The EU consuls have clearly failed in their mission,” he said.

Palestinian-Israeli peace talks broke down in 2010 after Israel ended a partial moratorium on construction in settlements.

Some 325,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, home to 2.5 million Palestinians. Another 200,000 Israelis live in and around East Jerusalem, where 250,000 Palestinians reside.

The report identified construction in large urban settlements that lie between Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem as “the most significant and problematic plans” Israel is currently advancing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defying international condemnation of settlement expansion, has also pledged to build some 3,000 settler homes in the so-called E1 corridor near Jerusalem.

The report said building in E1 “is set to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank”. Israel, which announced the project after the United Nations granted de facto recognition to a Palestinian state last November, has said construction in the area is at least a year away.

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