5 July 2012
Foreign office (FCO) minister Alistair Burt yesterday dropped the strongest hint yet that the UK may be moving towards a ban on goods from illegal Israeli settlements.
Burt, who is responsible for Middle East affairs at the FCO, was facing pressure at a debate in Parliament Wednesday for concrete action on Israeli settlement goods. In response to a question from Richard Burden MP (vice chair of the Labour Friends of Palestine group) the minister said:
“We value the fact that people have choice in relation to their purchase of [settlement] goods [because of stronger regulations on labelling], but further consideration of the issue of settlement produce and financing is under active consideration in London and in Brussels” (my emphasis).
Burden has said there is a “growing legal opinion that we [in the UK and EU] are colluding in” illegality by allowing the purchase of Israeli settlement goods. Burden stressed there “may need to be some pressure here”.
The shadow minister for the Middle East later said he thought Burt’s comments were unprecedented. Ian Lucas MP, who is Burt’s opposite number in the Labour opposition, was speaking at a meeting held last night by the Council for Arab British Understanding organised to report back on a recent delegation to occupied Palestine.
You can view Burt’s comments on the Parliament TV website (skip to timecode 15:54).
Update, 9 July
Writing in the Independent today, Donald Macintyre revealed that a high-profile Cambridge professor of international law has advised the EU that member states would be perfectly within their rights to ban settlement goods. The full 60-page opinion will be published later in the week by the Trades Union Congress, who have been campaigning for such a ban. I’ll update this post again with a link when it becomes available.
It seems likely that this legal advice is part of what Richard Burden was refering to in the quote above.
Update, 10 July
The TUC has now published the full 60-page document containing Professor James Crawford’s opinion, along with a shorter briefing note on the document which includes a biography of Prof. Crawford. In the accompanying press release, the TUC’s general secretary explains why a ban is needed: “there are parts of the settlement trade that consumer pressure simply cannot reach, such as the wholesale and catering industries, and that’s why we need a total ban”.
However, he also notes that: “The TUC does not support a ban against Israel, but we do support a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements because these are illegal, make life a misery for ordinary Palestinians and are ruining any chance of peace.”
But with the settlements being already highly integrated into the wider Israeli economy, and with creeping moves to annex West Bank settlements over time, how much longer will the TUC be able to sustain such a distinction?
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