Will Israel’s largest trading partner (the EU) use its economic muscle against Israeli settlements? Some famous former officials from Israel and beyond are calling for just that.
The European Union once again dragged its feet on a decision to implement the labeling of products from Israeli settlements this May, in deference to John Kerry’s latest peace efforts.
Depending on the outcome – or lack thereof – of Kerry’s diplomacy, however, the issue could soon reappear on the EU agenda and a number of high profile Israeli, international and Palestinian figures are making clear their support for labeling.
The Elders, a group of former statesmen (and women) working to advance human rights, justice and peace, published a video last week explaining the importance of labeling settlement products.
Speaking in the video, former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg compares giving consumers choices in using their purchasing power to support environmentally friendly manufacturing in choosing not to buy settlement products.
If a product “was produced [on] the other side of the fence, the other side of reality, the other side of goodness, I should have, as a customer, a choice, or at least I should be informed” before purchasing it,” Burg says.
Alon Liel, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and outspoken critic of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, explains that as someone who views settlements as “placing a huge, huge question mark on the future of peace in the region,” he treats products produced in settlements differently than those manufactured in Israel proper.
When regulated by official guidelines, labeling is a matter of policy. Its impact, however, is to empower regular citizens to use their purchasing power to effect social and political change, Semma Quran of Palestinians for Dignity explains in the video.
Just seeing labels on different products can lead consumers to research the differences between them, Quran says. That, she adds, “can also cause a certain political awareness of what’s going on here, which is something that we always strive for.”
Former Irish president and current Elders member Mary Robinson echoed that idea earlier this year, saying, “people throughout Europe, in their capacity as consumers, have the power to reignite hope in the Middle East.”
Encouraging the EU to play a stronger role in the region, the Elders believe that Europe “has the potential to alter the current stalemate by making clear the distinction between Israel within the pre-1967 borders and Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” a statement from The Elders Foundation said.
Earlier this year, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter noted that Europe has long opposed settlement expansion and could “introduce a clear labeling of products made in Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
Voices from within the EU are also becoming louder in their calls to label settlement products, both for consumer choice and to ensure they are not granted favored tariff status. As reported in +972 earlier this year, European diplomats based in Jerusalem and the West Bank sent a report to Brussels with a clear message: principled and legal stands against illegal settlements – and in favor of a two-state solution – are in vain if the EU takes no action.
A report written for the UN Human Rights Council in February went even further, calling on governments to warn business against operating in settlements.