In the latest sign that some European governments are starting to realize that they must do more that merely condemn Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land, comments by a Greek diplomat and the Norwegian foreign minister suggest that European governments are discussing taking action against settlement produce.
Israeli media reports are claiming that a Greek diplomat told reporters that the EU is considering a ban on importing settlement produce. An article in the The Jerusalem Post states:
The European Union is considering instituting a ban on imports of products made in Israeli settlements, a Greek Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying to a group of Israeli and Palestinian journalists in Athens on Friday.
According to multiple Israeli media reports, the Greek diplomat, speaking to reporters during a Geneva Initiative seminar in the Greek capital, said that EU nations were currently holding discussions on the issue. Among moves being considered were a total import ban on settlement goods or the implementation of special labels for goods made in communities beyond the Green Line, such as South Africa adopted last month.
Channel 10 quoted the official as saying the EU Executive Commission would likely make a decision on the issue next month.
Meanwhile, Norway’s foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store hinted that his country, which is not part of the EU, is also considering taking action against trade in settlement goods. Haaretz reported (subscription required):
The international community must consider how to relate to the import of goods that are produced in the settlements, “which we consider illegal according to international law,” the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store told Haaretz on the eve of his visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Store, head of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee - a donor support group to the Palestinian Authority - said that Norway would “consider various options to demonstrate its policy in regard to the expansion of the settlements.”
Settlement products are illegal
One commentary interpreted Store’s comments to mean that the Norwegian government believes settlement products are illegal, a view shared by two recent publications from Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq.
A legal memorandum entitled “State Responsibility in Connection with Israel’s Illegal Settlement Enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” released in July and endorsed by legal experts including Professor John Dugard, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, made clear that states have a responsibility to end all forms of support or recognition for Israel’s settlement enterprise, including by preventing the trade in settlement goods.
On 3 September, Al-Haq published a report on Ahava, the Israeli cosmetics firm that operates in an illegal settlement, in which it called for “restrictive measures” on the import of Israeli products from Israeli settlements, “because of the serious violations of peremptory norms of international law that settlements and their related infrastructure entail, such as the violation of Palestinian right to self-determination.”
The report explained that EU member states — and, by implication, all other states that allow imports of settlement goods — are violating their own legal obligations by allowing the trade in settlement goods to continue:
On the one hand, by allowing the entering of such products in their internal market, the EU and its national authorities are in breach of their duty of non-recognition of Israel’s unlawful conduct in the OPT [occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip]. On the other hand, by trading goods coming from Israeli settlements, the member States of the EU are actively cooperating and supporting the maintenance of the illegal situation created by the Israeli authorities in the occupied territory, in clear violation of their legal obligations under international law.
Time to end trade with companies operating in settlements
These latest comments from European officials follow recent decisions by the Danish and South African governments to join the UK in issuing guidance that settlement products should be labeled in a way that distinguishes them from other Israeli exports.
Irish foreign minister Eamon Gilmore has stated that Ireland supports an EU ban on settlement trade. In May, a UK foreign minister appeared to hint that the UK government is considering further action on settlement products. Campaigners from several other European countries have reported that foreign ministries have become much more open to calls for action on settlement products in recent months.
This gradual but significant change in attitude by major governments should be viewed as a response, at least partially, to succesful campaigning by the movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
Agrexco, formerly Israel’s largest exporter of agricultural produce, entered into administration in September 2011 following a campaign that took place in more than 15 countries and played a major role in the company’s collapse. Building on this success, campaigners in the UK successfully persuaded the Cooperative Group, one of the UK’s biggest retailers, to end trade with companies like Mehadrin that export from Israel’s illegal settlements.
In a statement celebrating the Cooperative Group’s decision, agricultural organizations in Palestine explained their support for a focus on complicit companies rather than just settlement produce itself:
Agricultural export companies routinely mislabel their produce and are known to market settlement produce as originating from inside Israel. More importantly, agricultural companies as a whole are accountable for their conduct, and any trade with companies that export — even if partially — from settlements or participate in other Israeli violations of international law only serves to encourage further Israeli violations of international law and is inherently unethical.
Further campaigning against trade that supports settlement expansion is expected to take place over the coming months and can start to generate the public pressure that will be necessary to force governements and more big retailers to take comprehensive action.