The European Union (EU) imports fifteen times more from Israel’s illegal settlements than it does from Palestinians themselves within the West Bank. This was revealed in a report released last week by a coalition of European NGOs, including the Quaker Council for European Affairs. The report, entitled “Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements”, highlights the contradictions at the heart of EU policy: at the same time as declaring that “settlements are illegal under international law, [and] constitute an obstacle to peace”, the EU contributes to their expansion and prosperity through substantial trade relationships.
The EU imports €230 million worth of goods from the illegal settlements in the West Bank every year. The most common settlement goods sold in Europe are agricultural products, such as dates, citrus fruits and herbs, and manufactured products including cosmetics, carbonation devices, plastics, textile products and toys. The EU grants the State of Israel, as recognised by the international community, preferential access to its internal markets through a number of mechanisms, but fails to make adequate provisions to ensure settlements do not also benefit. Products produced in the settlements are often labelled as ‘Made in Israel’ making it extremely difficult for customs officials to determine their true source.
The trade relationship is by no means one way. European companies often provide goods and services to the settlements. G4S, the multinational company whose delivery of the London Olympics security contract caused much controversy, has been providing, through its Israeli subsidiary, security services and equipment to Israeli checkpoints, to prisons detaining Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories inside Israel and to private businesses in settlements.
There are clear and concrete steps that both the EU and its member states could take to improve this situation. Taking action would send a more coherent and clear message to Israel that would align more closely with existing foreign policy regarding settlements. To begin with, the EU should ensure that goods produced in the settlements are clearly labelled. Consumers and industry alike can then make informed decisions. The EU might also strengthen provisions within existing (as well as future) cooperation agreements to make sure settlements do not benefit from preferential treatment properly applied to trade with Israel within internationally recognised borders.
Although the report is aimed at policy makers in the EU and national governments, there are some actions we can all take forward, whether in public office or not. If you’re not doing so already then you could check if your local supermarket labels goods clearly, and challenge them if not. You might also consider taking part in our ‘Action Alerts‘. These are messages we send out to our supporters asking them to take action on issues as and when they arise. You can find more information and sign up here. QCEA will continue to lobby policy makers in the EU to put in place robust means of enforcing its own rules in regard to imports of goods from Israel. Pressure should also be put on member states that are not doing so already to screen out goods that are of known provenance from the illegal settlements, or whose status is ambiguous or unproven.
The EU’s position is clear: “settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible”. It’s time for the actions of the EU and its member states to reflect this.
For those interested, there was significant press coverage of the report’s publication. Here’s a selection of some of the best: