Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Trading Away Peace

In 1993 the Oslo agreements were marked with the historic handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.  Israel agreed to withdraw from defined areas of the West Bank and Gaza and to allow elections to take place to enable a Palestinian Authority to have some degree of autonomy.  At the time the population in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories was 282,000.  Today it is over 500,000. 

Israeli Government policy has encouraged the expansion of settlements in the West Bank although this expansion is recognised to be illegitimate under international law by the United States, EU and UK government.  It is claimed that settlements restrict Palestinian movement to such an extent that they now call into question the viability of the two-state solution.

Today 22 agencies and churches have published a report detailing the EU’s trading relationship with Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The report reveals that the volume of EU trade with illegal settlements is 15 times that of trade with Palestinian communities in the West Bank.  

The faith-based groups in the UK supporting this report are Christian Aid, Quakers and the Methodist Church.  They are asking for national governments within the EU to make the importation of settlement produce illegal.  Meanwhile, in the short term, we are calling for the labelling guidance on Israeli settlement produce that has been introduced by the UK and Denmark to be extended across the EU. This enables consumers to determine, in the case of products originating from the West Bank, whether a product has been sourced from Israeli settlements or from Palestinian areas.  The Methodist Church in Britain endorses this report in line with Methodist Conference resolutions that have called for progress towards peace and justice in the region and the avoidance of goods sourced from settlements.  The agencies supporting this report do not support a general boycott of Israel. 

I have previously mused on the roles that the EU might play today in supporting a durable solution in Israel/Palestine.  This focus on trade with settlements represents one possible contribution from the EU which is Israel’s largest single trading partner.   Trade with Israel and Palestine should continue to be a force for increased understanding and co-operation.  A refusal to trade with illegal settlements would send the strong signal that the EU views adherence to international law as one vital aspect in achieving justice and resolution to conflict.