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Ireland to vote on settlement trade sanctions bill

The law would prohibit the import and sale of goods and services that originate in settlements in occupied territories, targeting Israeli settlements but also other occupations worldwide. Previous European laws made do with ‘differentiation’ measures.

Jewish settlers clean the newly harvested grapes at a winery in the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion, September 8, 2014. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Jewish settlers clean the newly harvested grapes at a winery in the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion, September 8, 2014. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Ireland’s parliament is set to vote on a bill Tuesday to prohibit trade with illegal settlements in occupied territories, including those in the West Bank. In contrast to policies and legislation that differentiate Israeli settlements and excludes them from trade agreements, the Irish bill could be construed as sanctions targeting settlement products.

[Update: After Israel summoned the Irish ambassador over the proposed law, the Irish Senate postponed the vote by several months, Haaretz’s Noa Landau reported.]

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories Bill 2018), which would make dealing in settlement products a criminal offense, was put forth by Senator Frances Black, an independent politician, and co-signed by a slew of other Irish parliamentarians. The bill is expected to win the support of Labour, Sinn Fein, the Green Party and several independents. The government is expected to oppose.

The bill seeks to prohibit the import and sale of goods and services originating in settlements deemed illegal under international and Irish law. Ireland imports a number of settlement goods, including agricultural and cosmetic products, including those produced by Ahava.

The bill does not implement a total ban on Israeli goods — only those produced in settlements beyond the borders recognized by the Irish government and international community — the Green Line. The bill also includes a provision that could include territories beyond Palestine, such as Western Sahara and Crimea.

A Palestinian boy looks at the Israeli settlement of Carmel from the Bedouin village of Umm Al Khair, in South Hebron Hills, West bank, February 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian boy looks at the Israeli settlement of Carmel from the Bedouin village of Umm Al Khair, in South Hebron Hills, West bank, February 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

In the run-up to the debate in the Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, Ireland’s legislature, Senator Black said: “This is a chance for Ireland to stand up for the rights of vulnerable people – it is about respecting international law and refusing to support illegal activity and human suffering. We condemn the settlements as illegal but support them economically. As international law is absolutely clear that the settlements are illegal, then the goods they produce are the proceeds of crime. We must face up to this.”

Although the Irish government has previously criticized the “relentless progress” of Israeli settlements, even threatening to seek an outright EU ban on settlement goods, nothing has been done, Black says. “Ireland needs to show leadership and act, this bill gives us a chance to do that.”

In 2012, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously called for a ban on trading in settlement goods. Simon Coveney, the deputy head of government of Ireland, said last week that he is open to considering in principle an EU-level ban, yet admitted the “inescapable fact” that there is no such prospect of an EU agreement at present.

A mango labeled with a sticker reading "Made in Israel" and written in Arabic, seen in a market in Amman city, Jordan, August 28,2012. The mangoes are produced by the Israeli company "Zemach", based in the illegal Jewish settlement block of the Jordan valley in the West Bank. (photo by: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

A mango labeled with a sticker reading “Made in Israel” and written in Arabic, seen in a market in Amman city, Jordan, August 28,2012. The mangoes are produced by the Israeli company “Zemach,” based in the West Bank. (photo by: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

In 2005, the European Union stipulated that products originating in areas beyond Israel’s pre-1967 lines may not benefit from the EU-Israel Free Trade Agreement. A decade later, the EU issued guidelines for labeling Israeli settlement products to ensure consumers can differentiate them from items produced in Israel. The EU’s insistence that no agreement with Israel apply to the occupied territories has caused controversy in Israel, especially as the right-wing Israeli government takes more and more steps to do the opposite: make sure Israeli law applies as much as possible to West Bank settlements.

The bill in the Seanad Éireann comes just a week after the Danish parliament voted to exclude West Bank settlements from bilateral agreements with Israel, and ahead of a vote to recognize the State of Palestine in the Slovenian parliament, which is expected to pass.

On Tuesday, a group of prominent Israeli politicians, artists, and academics published an open letter to the Irish parliament, calling on it to support the legislation “which will help enforce differentiation between Israel per se and the settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

“The occupation has been correctly identified by successive Irish governments as a major obstacle to peace,” the letter continues, “which we believe remains attainable should we see the termination of the occupation and the realization of the two-state paradigm that would lead to the emergence of a sovereign State of Palestine alongside Israel.”

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