Thursday, August 06, 2020

U.S. intervention delays EU labeling of settlement products

By Sam Gilbert - May 28, 2013
Section: [Main News] [BDS]
Tags: [BDS] [settlements] [European Union] [US foreign policy]

Vineyards near the Shilo settlement. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.


The European Union (EU) has delayed the enforcement of its draft decision to label all Israeli goods coming from settlements inside the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).  This decision, which according to European diplomats was to be discussed on Monday 27 May, was shelved till sometime in mid-June.  The delay, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was due in large part to U.S. pressure on the EU to postpone the enforcement, arguing that the decision would impede upon the upcoming U.S. brokered peace talks between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu.The draft decision stipulates that the trade agreements between Israel and the EU do not apply to the settlements in the oPt based on the EU's recognition of the illegality of Israel’s settlement enterprise.

In May of last year the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, made the initial decision to label settlement goods imported to Europe. In February 2012, EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton called for the full enforcement of EU legislation regarding the labeling of Israeli settlement products, claiming that the step is “in fulfillment of our previous commitments and is fully consistence of EU policy in relation to Israel Settlement in the occupied territories(1).”  She went on to say, “consumers have the right to an informed choice,” and that “this initiative will help support our retails to provide this and ensure that consumers are not being misled by false information.”
The impetus on labeling settlement goods is based on official EU policy that views the continued settlement enterprise as illegal and the primary obstacle to peace. The EU has recognized that these settlements are in direct violation of international law including the Palestinian right to self-determination, the prohibition against extensive destruction of property and the prohibition against colonialism.  Numerous UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions have confirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements over the years.  Yet, according to the Quaker Council for European Affairs, there are nearly half a million settlers in the oPt living in the more than 200 settlements and outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (2).
The step to label setter produce has been presented as an attempt to lessen the economic support of settlements by E.U member states; however, many argue that only a complete boycott of Israeli goods would put the kind of pressure needed to change Israeli policy on both sides of the green line.
U.S. Obstructionism
According to an Israeli official, Jerusalem reached out to Washington on Monday to delay the impending EU decision to label Israeli settlement goods. On Monday, 27 May,  Haaretz reported that John Kerry among other senior US officials asked Ashton and her staff, as well as several major EU states, to put off full enforcement. This delay was granted to “facilitate” the upcoming peace talks, conditional on their progress.
The intrusion by the U.S into European Union matters is entirely consistent with Washington’s policy to shield Israel from international criticism.  Since the creation of the Jewish State the United States has launched more than 50 Security Council vetoes in order to protect Israel from international scrutiny (3). 
The intrusion by the U.S into European Union matters is entirely consistent with Washington’s policy to shield Israel from international criticism.
The irony of course is that successive U.S. administrations have, with varying degrees of fervor, condemned settlements and settlement expansion as destructive to the peace process.  Nonetheless, when a policy arises that might threaten (economically) the settlements in even a marginal way, Washington intervenes to protect the colonies.
In the mean time, Israel continues to use U.S. capital to fund its occupation while Washington brokered peace talks continue to do nothing but provide diplomatic cover while Israel continues its relentless settlement campaign and annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.   The Oslo Accords provide a telling example. More settlements have been built since Oslo than at any other time in history, having more than doubled since the early 1990’s (3).  Yet, regardless of the U.S./Israeli track record in Palestine, the EU has decided to delay the decision till sometime next month. 
Mislabeling of Goods
While U.S. obstructionism is lamentable, a larger problem may well be the continued mislabeling of oPt goods by Israel. This evasion circumvents the restrictions and economic penalties imposed on such goods by the EU-Israel trade agreement. This agreement, which came into force in 2000, established a free trade regime whereby trade is liberalized between the EU and Israel by the partial abolition of tariffs (4).  However, the agreement stipulates only foods grown in Israel proper can enjoy preferential status, those originating in the oPt do no apply (4). 
The problem, as BDS founder Omar Barghouti states, is that “EU countries have for decades looked the other way as Israel exported its colonial products.” Exacerbating this are the reports that exporters mislead European consumers and taxation authorities by mislabeling settlement produce as organizations from within Israel’s pre-1967 borders (1).  Moreover, Israeli exports routinely mix settlement produce with others produce from Israeli farms to avoid paying the import duty (1).  This new labeling enforcement may be an attempt to remedy this problem, yet it is hard to know what if any affect there will be on the economies of the settlements.  
In Support of Colonialism
Many critics argue that the enforcement of labeling settlement-made goods does not go nearly far enough in curbing the economic support provided by Europe to the Israeli settler project.  A 2013 report by the Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq, displays how access to international markets for settler produce is foundational to the economic livelihood and entrenchment of the Israeli colonial project: “Export of settlement produce to international market can be considered an essential step in the process of reinforcing and consolidating the settlement enterprise.”  
This is especially pertinent to Europe, being the largest international market for Israeli produce. The value of goods produced in settlements located in the West Bank and exported to Europe is valued at nearly 300 million USD per year (4).  For many settlements, agriculture is the primary source of income, particularly for those located in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea areas. In these regions, exports are of vital economic importance and a huge contributing factor to the permanence and growth of settlements.  
Not only does the trade in settlement produce ensure the economic viability of settlements, it recognizes their legitimacy. “By permitting trade in settlement goods, E.U. member states are implicitly recognizing as lawful a number of legislative and executive acts of the occupying power that are not only contrary to international law, and in some cases, criminal,”says Al-Haq’s 2013 report on the EU’s purchase of settlement produce. By engaging in the trade of settlement produce, and by extension other goods, states are failing to comply with their obligation to actively cooperate in order to put the Israeli settlement enterprise to an end.
It is clear that trade in settlement goods provides direct support to the Israeli colonial occupation, its appropriation of land and resources and its denial of the most basic civil, political and human rights of the Palestinian people. In all likelihood the decision to label settlement products will pass and a few more consumers will be able to pass up Dead Sea cosmetics from the Mitzpe Shalem settlement, or decide against purchasing a wine from the occupied Golan Heights.   
But the reality of what is taking place in the West Bank demands something much more substantial than a campaign to accurately label the origins of Israeli products. Even a ban on settlement goods does not reconcile the fact that the discriminatory policies of the Israeli state are not exclusive to the occupied territories. Those non-Jewish residents (read Palestinians) living inside Israel are still denied equal rights, and millions of Palestinian refugees are left perpetually homeless. A boycott of all products originating in Israel, not just the occupied territories, could go a long way in effecting change in the region. Until then, the processes that began in 1948 will continue on unhindered. 
End Notes
1 EU Council conclusion on The Middle East Peace Process:  3209th Foreign Affairs Council Meeting , Brussels, 10 December 2012
2) “Middle East Conflict Briefing Paper: EU Trade with Israeli Settlement.”  Quaker Council for European Affairs, February 2012. 
3)Aruri, Naseer.  “United States policy and Palestine: Oslo, the Intifada and erasure.” Race Class January 2011 vol. 52 no. 3 3-20

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