May 27, 2017

Sustaining Injustice: EU trade with Israeli settlements

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Palestinian communities are under threat from the continued expansion of Israeli settlements and the related policies of land confiscation and house demolitions. Settlements undermine the development of Palestinian communities and infringe on the right to self-determination, equality, property, an adequate standard of living, and freedom of movement. Furthermore, according to the UN, the EU and the International Court of Justice, Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.

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The "two-state solution" of an Israeli and Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security is widely promoted and recognised by the international community as a solution to the conflict, including by Ireland, the UK and the EU. However, the construction of settlements in the West Bank is rapidly endangering it as a realistic possibility. In July 2012, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD, reiterated the Irish government's support for a two-state solution but stated that the "relentless construction of settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) is undermining the viability of a future Palestinian state" and that "the window of opportunity for the two-state solution is rapidly closing".(1)

This sentiment was shared a month earlier by the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague MP. In a public statement released by the UK Foreign Office in June 2012, the Secretary of State said, "continued systematic settlement activity, and repeated breaches by the Israeli government of international law, is provocative, undermines the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and makes the two-state solution ever harder to realise."(2) Furthermore, in May 2012, the EU Foreign Affairs Council recognised the urgency of the situation on the ground and condemned "developments on the ground, which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible". They reiterated that "settlements remain illegal under international law".(3 - EU Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, 14th May 2012)

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Regrettably, statements by the EU, the UK and Ireland have done little to halt the growth of the settlements on the ground. Since the beginning of the Oslo peace process in 1992, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank has more than doubled. There are now more than 500,000 settlers living on occupied Palestinian land, and 42% of West Bank land has been allocated for settlements. In comparison, this is roughly equivalent to an area the size of Dublin, Louth, Meath and Westmeath being reduced to the size of just Meath. Statements and declarations have done little to halt this rapid expansion.

Furthermore, while the EU condemns Israeli settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, the EU continues to trade with them. Trade between the EU and the settlements is estimated to be at least €96 million a year. Settlement goods such as agricultural produce and manufactured goods are ending up on the shelves of EU retailers. Many European consumers have shown a strong preference for purchasing ethically sourced products, and don't want to be complicit in violations of international law and human rights abuses.(In the UK, ethical consumer spending (defined as 'personal allocation of funds, including consumption and investment, where choice has been informed by a particular issue – be it human rights, social justice, the environment or animal welfare') amounted to £46.8bn in 2011, a 9% rise on 2010. Despite the recession, the sale of ethical goods has increased year-on-year for the last decade. The Co-op Bank "The Ethical Consumerism Report 2011", p. 2)

As long as Israel doesn't feel an increased cost to its policies, it is unlikely to respond to EU statements. EU messages towards Israel are in fact mixed – while statements may condemn the settlements, in practice political and trading relations have been growing closer. By trading with settlements, the EU undermines its own policy of opposing and condemning settlements. In order to have an impact on restricting settlement expansion, European countries must move from words to action. They must apply  measures that will give effect to their rhetoric and will be felt by Israel.

Trócaire believes that EU trade in settlement goods helps to bolster settlement economies and helps such settlements become financially viable and more permanent entities. Trading with settlements amounts to tacit support to ongoing violations of international law, and makes empty words of EU statements. Ending trade with settlements would have a strong economic, legal and political impact. EU governments and retailers can assist in ending this trade and can help to bring about a just peace to the region based on international law.

This report examines the negative impact of Israeli settlements on Palestinian communities and looks at how the EU's policy of trading with settlements undermines EU condemnation of settlements and supports their economic viability. It examines the various sectors of the settlement economy, the products that are entering EU markets, and the levels of trade between the EU and the settlements.

The paper argues that to make a serious contribution towards the long-term peace in the region, the EU, Ireland, and the UK must take action against settlement trade. The paper makes recommendations for governments and retailers to contribute towards an end to settlement trade. Read the full report by TROCAIRE here: pdfSUSTAINING INJUSTICE: EU TRADE WITH ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS IN THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES