European NGOs to EU: Rhetoric is not enough, ban settlement products now

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Tomer settlement
Palestinians harvesting dates in the Jordan Valley settlement of Tomer
(Photo: Jean-Paul Perrin)

The EU imports over 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian. The EU issues statements about the illegality of the settlements, criticizes and condemns them, but has failed to take any meaningful action leveraging economic or political pressure. This undermines the EU’s strategic interests and values, facilitates the growth of the illegal settlements and threatens the prospect for a two state settlement.

These are some of the findings in a report signed by 22 European NGOs titled “Trading Away Peace: How Europe Helps Sustain Illegal Israeli Settlements”(pdf):

The contradictions of Europe’s trade with Israeli settlements
The most recent estimate of the value of EU imports from settlements provided by the Israeli government to the World Bank is $300m (€230m) a year; this is approximately fifteen times the annual value of EU imports from Palestinians. With more than four million Palestinians and over 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied territory this means the EU imports over 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian.

The report is directed only at illegal settlements outside Israel’s recognized borders. It blames “Israel’s incessant settlement policy” for prevented meaningful peace negotiations and lists 12 steps suggesting how to oppose the settlements including banning “imposts of settlement products” and “preventing financial transactions to settlements” in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

Alternative Information Center (AIC):

“Europe says settlements are illegal under international law and yet continues to trade with them. Consumers are unwittingly contributing to the injustice by buying products that are inaccurately labelled as coming from Israel when in fact they are from settlements in the West Bank,” said William Bell, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Christian Aid UK and Ireland.


Among the settlement goods that are on sale in Europe are dates, grapes, citrus fruits, herbs, wines, cosmetics from Ahava, some of the carbonation devices from SodaStream and some of the plastic garden furniture produced by Keter. 

“Goods from West Bank settlements are produced on the back of house demolitions, land confiscations, and military occupation. 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,” said Souhayr Belhassen President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Haaretz Amira Hass:

The report cites figures from the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy showing that the Palestinian economy loses some $7 billion annually due to Israeli control over the West Bank and the restrictions it imposes. The report cites International Monetary Fund figures according to which exports constitute less than 15 percent of the Palestinian GDP, down from 50 percent in the 1980s. The report concludes that this decline negates any benefits of the EU’s preferential trade agreement with the Palestinians.”

The report states that Israel provides the settlements and its inhabitants with significant financial benefits and access to lands and water, which are the basis for the economic success of products from the settlements, particularly agricultural products. But at the same time, the authors write, Israel hinders Palestinian economic activity by limiting movement and access to lands in Area C, under its full military and civilian control, and limiting access to water, grazing and farm lands, most of which is located in Area C.

Quoting an estimate cited by the World Bank from an article written by Israeli and Palestinian economists, the report states that if Israeli restrictions on Palestinian agricultural produce in the Jordan Valley were lifted to allow only a 3.5 percent increase in cultivated land, the Palestinian economy “could gain $1 billion a year – comparable to the entire annual foreign aid budget to the Palestinian Authority.”

About 66 percent of Israel’s fruits and vegetables are exported to Europe. The report’s writers estimate that “the figure can be expected to be similar for fresh produce from settlements.” For example, the report notes that about 70 percent of grapes grown in the Jordan Valley are destined for export, and constitute half of Israeli grape exports. More than 80 percent of dates grown in the Jordan Valley are exported. In 2011, the report notes, Israel exported 25,000 tons of dates, 12,000 tons of which were grown in the Jordan Valley. In contrast, the Palestinians produced about 2,500 tons of dates in Israeli-occupied areas. Only 300 tons were exported, mainly to the Gulf states.

The Guardian Harriet Sherwood:

The report draws attention to a “discriminatory two-tier system” in the West Bank, under which settler businesses have the advantage of free movement unhindered by checkpoints and the security barrier, and greater access to land and water resources. In the Jordan Valley, where huge Israeli agricultural businesses are geared towards export, the settler population of fewer than 10,000 uses a quarter of the total amount of water consumed by 2.5m Palestinians living in the West Bank, it says.

It points out that the EU is the Palestinian Authority’s biggest donor, allocating $677m last year. It cites a World Bank estimate that if Israel lifted its restrictions on Palestinian agriculture, the Palestinian economy would no longer need to depend on foreign aid.

“The EU spends hundreds of millions of euros in aid each year to support Palestinian state building but then undermines this assistance by trading with illegal settlements, thus contributing to their viability and expansion,” said Phyllis Starkey, a trustee for Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Settlement growth has accelerated in the past two years, since the end of the temporary construction freeze brokered by the US. According to the report, “the settler population is growing at a much faster rate (an average of 5.3% annually over the last decade) than the Israeli population as a whole (1.8%)”.

It also urges the EU to act now “without delay” and lead the way.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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