Former Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace George Mitchell has praised a settlement industrial zone as a “glimmers of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.” Last week Mitchell cited a SodaStream factory in the Mishor Adumim area of Ma’ale Adumim near Jerusalem, which he visited on a previous delegation, as a shining example of joint Israeli-Palestinian economic projects. Mitchell seems to have missed that the factory, which is not a cooperative project, has been called the “wild West Bank for labor rights” and stands in direct contradiction to U.S. policy on settlements and international law.
From the Times of Israel:
Mitchell said that he has seen ‘some glimmers of Israel-Palestinian cooperation. For example, I visited Sodastream,’ the Israel-based manufacturer of home carbonated drink machines. Sodastream is located in Ma’aleh Adumim, and employs some 500 Palestinians, Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s confusion resides in conflating employing Palestinians at a rate below the Israeli minimum wage—a perk of doing business in the occupied West Bank—with partnering with Palestinians. Indeed while there are hundreds of Palestinian laborers with permits to work in these industrial zones, these factories are black sites for environmental and labor restrictions.
Though, there are actual cooperative projects even factories between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank that Mitchell could have looked to. In fact the Hebron Industrial Zone is an Oslo mandated manufacturing area intended to elevate the Palestinian economy. It is one of three such zones created by the aptly titled “Joint Economic Committee,” [PDF] whereas Ma’ale Adumim’s industrial zone was created by unilateral Israeli interest. Moreover USAID provided financial assistance to the Hebron factories, installing a wastewater management system. And so, it is even more the odd that Mitchell sees the “glimmers” of peace from literal competitors of where the U.S. has chosen to invest.
Here’s USAID describing the cooperation in Hebron:
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) convened a meeting with stakeholders to identify a solution to this problem. This consultative process with factory owners, local government, Palestinian Ministries, and Israeli officials led to the collective agreement on immediate actions required.
Even more peculiar, Ma’ale Adumim’s very existence, though legal under Israeli law, is in violation of the Paris Protocols of the Oslo Accords [see Article IX-PDF] and U.S. policy. The seemingly abandoned peace agreement between Israel and the PLO states that Israel cannot take actions to compromise the construction of Palestinian industrial zones, or damage the Palestinian environment. But because of lax regulations SodaStream is able to cause degradation to the environment and can get away with paying scant wages. Meanwhile Palestinian manufacturing areas are unable to compete with the Israeli maquiladora. The most striking example is the Jericho Industrial Park, which sits empty and unopened 20 years after Oslo because of its inability to attract foreign companies, all the while Ma’ale Adumim’s zone has expanded. Additionally Oslo forbids unilaterally altering official the status of the West Bank. Just as the PA’s statehood bid violated Oslo last fall, Israel’s claim of “Israeli state land” in Ma’ale Adumim dually violates the accords.
So while Mitchell applauds a settlement as “cooperative,” just mere kilometers away Oslo’s failed hopes sit underutilized and dormant. Much like the peace process itself.