Christian Aid and Quakers in Britain are uniting to urge the UK government to impose a ban on the import of Israeli settlement products.
They told a Parliamentary briefing today (19 June) that such a move would promote the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Christian Aid Policy and Advocacy Officer William Bell said: "Settlements are illegal under international law, a major cause of poverty amongst Palestinians and an obstacle to peace.
"They will continue to expand and develop unless action is taken that backs the routine statements of condemnation from the international community. Trade perpetuates the settlements by making them economically viable.
"Christian Aid believes that it is the role of governments to protect the consumer from purchasing goods from an illegal source and so is calling on the UK Government to impose a ban.’"
Quakers in Britain see the initiative as a nonviolent action to support efforts to build peace in the region.
Marisa Johnson served as an ecumenical accompanier in the West Bank as part of an international programme of human rights observers, managed in the UK and Ireland by Quakers. She said: "I have witnessed the damaging impact of the settlements. The problem goes beyond the obvious effects on Palestinian livelihoods and damages prospects for peace."
Numerous Israeli settlements were established on Palestinian land following the six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967. Today they number more than 100. Dozens more illegal outposts (settlements built without Israeli government authorisation) also now exist.
Under international law, all such encroachments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal.
The World Bank has identified the seizure of land for settlement building and future expansion as an intrinsic problem in the Palestinian economy, reducing and fragmenting the space available for economic development. The UN Development Programme estimates the Palestinian economy has contracted by 23 per cent since 1999.
In 2009 the UK Foreign Affairs Committee said "expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank prejudices prospects for a two-state outcome." Continued settlement activity, it said, "must call Israel’s commitment to such an outcome into doubt."
However, despite regular statements of condemnation from the UK government, settlement expansion has continued at an increasing rate.
Earlier this month Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned Israel’s announcement authorising new settlement units and urged the Israeli government to change its approach. Whilst recognising that the Israeli government voted against a bill legalising West Bank outposts, its decision to build 851 new settlement units across the West Bank has been seen by the British government and EU partners as an obstacle to peace and setting a dangerous precedent.
Christian Aid and Quakers in Britain have strongly urged the Foreign Affairs Committee to revisit its inquiry and, by focusing on Israeli settlements, encourage the UK government to play an important role in achieving peace.
The parliamentary briefing makes a number of recommendations, including urging the UK government to introduce legislation against the import of products from illegal Israeli settlements.
William Bell explains "We do not support a ban or boycott on trade with Israel but consider that a ban on trading settlement products is justified because settlements are illegal and have a negative impact on the Palestinian economic development. Although informed consumer choice can send a powerful message, on its own it cannot adequately tackle the problem."