THE European Union must ban produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank from entering its markets in order to cut off “a vital source of revenue which allows settlements to thrive”, says a report by the Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq.
The trade, estimated by the Israeli government to be worth about $300m a year, is “an essential step in the process of reinforcing and consolidating the settlement enterprise, while simultaneously ensuring the viability of the entire settlement strategy”, according to the report, Feasting on the Occupation.
It points out that although the EU repeatedly states that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, it continues to allow settlement produce to enter its markets. The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner, receiving about 20 per cent of total Israeli exports.
Al Haq estimates that settlements in the Jordan Valley — the large swath of fertile agricultural land in the West Bank that is dominated by Israeli agribusiness — contribute 40 per cent of herbs, 50 per cent of grapes and 40 per cent of dates exported by Israel.
“The flourishing agricultural environment in the West Bank, particularly in the Jordan Valley area, coupled with the exploitation of water and other natural resources found in the occupied territory, has … turned Israeli settlements into profitable corporations,” says the report.
Settlement goods are often labelled “produce of the West Bank” or “produce of Israel”, implying it is Palestinian produce or it originates on the Israeli side of the 1967 green line.
The British government issued guidelines to UK supermarkets three years ago urging clearer labelling, such as “Israeli settlement produce”, to allow consumers to make informed choices about purchases. An EU-wide policy on labelling has been discussed in Brussels, although officials have rejected a boycott of settlement produce.
Al Haq argues that the EU is obliged by international law to ban trade with settlements. It says that in serious breaches of the fundamental principles of international law, such as colonialism or the appropriation of property, states must not assist in maintaining an illegal situation.
“While the EU has been quite outspoken in condemning settlements and their expansion, they continue to import produce from these same settlements and in doing so, help to sustain their very existence,” said Shawan Jabarin, of Al Haq.
“As things stand, the EU is doing little more than ticking a box by acknowledging that settlements are illegal. Until they support this rhetoric with action and ensure that no assistance or recognition are provided to settlements, even indirectly, any such criticism will continue to be meaningless.”
Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said: “Al Haq is confusing a political position with international law. They are entitled to their own political views, but not to their own law. The banning of produce on political grounds is not in accordance with international law, rather the contrary. To wit, no country has legislated in this sense.” — The Guardian, London