The European Union imports fifteen times more from Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory than from Palestinians themselves, says a new report from a coalition of 22 non-governmental organisations including Christian Aid in Britain and Ireland, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Diakonia, the Methodist Church in Britain and the Quakers in Britain.
The report, entitled Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements, is the first to compare available export data from Israeli settlements and Palestinians, highlighting the inconsistency at the heart of EU policy. The EU states, “settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace, and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible”, but continues to provide a primary export market for settlement products. Most EU Member States have failed to ensure products are correctly labelled in stores, leaving consumers unaware of the products’ true origin, contrary to the EU’s own directives.
“Europe says settlements are illegal under international law and yet continues to trade with them. Consumers are unwittingly contributing to the injustice by buying products that are inaccurately labelled as coming from Israel when in fact they are from settlements in the West Bank,” said William Bell, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Christian Aid UK and Ireland.
The report, which has a foreword by the former EU Commissioner for External Relations, Hans van den Broek, calls on European governments to adopt a range of concrete measures to stop assisting settlement expansion and close the gap between words and practice. At a minimum, the coalition is calling for clear labelling guidelines to ensure European consumers do not unknowingly buy settlement goods. Such guidelines already exist in the UK and Denmark.
Trade with settlements has been on the EU agenda since May, when EU Foreign Ministers strongly criticised “the marked acceleration of settlement construction” and for the first time called for full application of existing EU legislation regarding products from settlements.
The Israeli government estimates the value of EU imports from settlements at around €230 million a year; compared to €15 million a year from Palestinians.  The discrepancy is partly driven by Israel’s policy of providing large subsidies to settlers, including for infrastructure, business development, and agriculture,while imposing stringent restrictions on the Palestinian access to markets and resources.
Settlers enjoy easy access to international markets, and have established modern agribusinesses and industrial zones. In contrast, the Palestinian economy is “severely constrained by a multi-layered system of restrictions” imposed by Israel, including roadblocks, checkpoints and limited access to land, water, and fertilisers. As a result, Palestinian exports have fallen from over half of GDP in the 1980s to less than 15 per cent of GDP in recent years, effectively invalidating the EU’s preferential trade agreement with the Palestinians.
“The EU spends hundreds of millions of euros in aid each year to support Palestinian state building but then undermines this assistance by trading with illegal settlements, thus contributing to their viability and expansion,” said Dr Phyllis Starkey, former British MP and Trustee of Medical Aid for Palestinians.
Among the settlement goods that are on sale in Europe are dates, grapes, citrus fruits, herbs, wines, cosmetics from Ahava, some of the carbonation devices from SodaStream and some of the plastic garden furniture produced by Keter.
“Goods from West Bank settlements are produced on the back of house demolitions, land confiscations, and military occupation. Governments need to finally move beyond rhetorical condemnations of settlements and at the very minimum ensure consumers can make informed decisions about these products in shops. This is nothing but abiding by European and international law,” said Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).