Time for EU to ban good for Israeli settlements
NGOs on Tuesday demanded an EU-wide ban on imports of settlement goods, warning European shoppers that supermarket shelf grapes and dates tagged "made in Israel" are probably produced in illegal Jewish settlements.
In a report, 22 non-governmental organizations active in the Palestinian territories accused the European Union of propping up Israeli settler policy by doing booming business with settlements even though it views them as "illegal under international law."
The EU currently imports 230 million euros ($300 million) of goods a year from Israeli settlements in the occupied territory, or 15 times more than from Palestinians themselves, according to World Bank figures from last month.
With some four million Palestinians and 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied territory, this means the EU imports over 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian, said the report titled "Trading Away Peace: How Europe Helps Sustain Illegal Israeli Settlements."
In the report Hans Van Den Broek, a former EU foreign policy chief and ex Dutch foreign minister, said it was urgent to agree "concrete measures" to contain settlement construction, which he said was the main factor blocking the resumption of the peace process.
"If Europe wants to preserve the two-state solution, it must act without delay and take the lead," he said of the recommendations listed in the 36-page report.
"These measures, directed only at illegal settlements outside Israel's recognized borders, do not constitute an anti-Israel agenda."
Settlement goods on sale in Europe, many from the potential breadbasket Jordan Valley, include dates, grapes, citrus fruits, herbs, wines, Ahava cosmetics, plastic Keter garden chairs and SodaStream carbonated drink products popular in Sweden.
But apart from Britain and Denmark, which have demanded goods be labelled "West Bank – Israeli settlement produce" or "Palestinian produce," European consumers are not aware of the origin of goods that are simply tagged "made in Israel."
Some European firms too have invested in settlements and their infrastructure or are providing services: this is the case of G4S (Britain/Denmark), Alstom (France), Veolia (France) and Heidelberg Cement (Germany), the report said.
At the same time, the 27-state EU bloc has become the largest donor to the Palestinians, handing out some five billion euros between 1994 and 2011, including 525 million euros last year alone.
Settlers enjoy massive subsidies and have easy access to international markets via government-built roads that bypass Palestinian areas.
Palestinians on the other hand face diminishing access to water sources and have to transport produce through more than 500 roadblocks and checkpoints.
"If EU aid is to have lasting impact ... governments need to invest not only money but also political will to address the root causes of Palestinian poverty aid dependency," the report states.
It calls not only for correct labelling of settlement products but also for moves to discourage EU firms from involvement with settlements and for a legal ban to exclude settlement goods from entry to the EU market.
It also suggests excluding settlements from preferential trade deals, cooperation accords and public procurement agreements with Europe.
Nations could also ensure that gifts to organizations that fund settlements be declared non tax-deductible.
"Goods from West Bank settlements are produced on the back of house demolitions, land confiscations and military occupation," said International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) president Souhayr Belhassen.
"Governments need to finally move beyond rhetorical condemnations of settlements and at the very minimum ensure consumers can make informed decisions about these products in shops. This is nothing but abiding by European and international law."
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