European NGOs call for Settlement boycott

A new report by 22 aid, development and church groups from nine European Union (EU) countries calls for the EU to stop buying goods from Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jewish businesses in East Jerusalem. The report finds the EU imports some $300 million from Israeli settlements, which is 15 times the amount of imports from the Palestinians. 

“We hope this will contribute to a change in EU policy,” Phyllis Starkey, a former British MP and one of the report’s authors, said. “There is clearly a much stronger will across Europe to take effective action against settlements. Denmark has announced labeling guidelines, and Ireland has said it favors an EU-wide ban on trade with settlements.”

Ireland is scheduled to take over the presidency of the EU next year.

The organizations behind the report are not well-known. The list includes names like Cordaid from the Netherlands and Trocaire from Ireland. But it comes amid growing concerns that the traditional idea of a two-state solution may be becoming obsolete and is expected to spark new discussion of that issue. The two-state solution calls for an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.

The report argues that the EU’s policy toward Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem does not make sense. On one hand, they see settlements as illegal under international law, and on the other hand, the report argues, EU trade helps sustain them.

The report makes no distinction between Jewish settlements in the West Bank, where some 350,000 settlers live, and 200,000 in East Jerusalem, areas of the city that Israel annexed in 1967. There is a difference of opinion between Israel and the international community on whether East Jerusalem is a settlement.

“Under both international law and EU policy, everything beyond the 1967 borders is not Israel,” Starkey claimed. “Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the EU or by international law.”

Israeli officials point to a strong difference between East Jerusalem, which has been annexed to Israel, and the West Bank, which remains under Israeli administrative control.

“How can you call half the city a settlement? This empties the word of any meaning, leaving just a propaganda formula,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “Calling the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem a settlement is absolute nonsense.”

Palmor had other criticisms of the report, saying that even the figure of $300 million in trade with settlements is questionable.

“These numbers are approximations at best, since no official statistics are being gathered on this sector,” he said. “No one separates economic activity in settlements from the rest of Israel. They are subjecting economic analysis to political prejudices.”

The report stops short of urging a boycott of all settlement products, but does urge “correct consumer labeling of all settlement products.” Currently, most settlement products say “Made in Israel” on their labels. 

“Despite its firm position that settlements are not part of Israel, Europe has been accepting imports of these settlements’ products with origin designated as “Israel.” 

The EU has agreements with both Israel and the Palestinians that end custom duties.

Palestinian officials welcomed the report.

“These products, which are made from a crime with stolen ingredients on stolen land, can access not only European markets but any market in the world,” Xavier Adueid, a Palestinian adviser, said. “This report shows it is not enough just to label settlement products — they should be banned from all markets.”

“The possibility of a political solution is disappearing because of the actions of the Israeli government,” Starkey said. “As Israel’s biggest trading partner, the EU has to send a strong signal that the international community won’t recognize any sovereignty over Palestinian territory.”