While small in scope, the EU’s territorial applicability clause may affect the population of Jewish settlements, which now sits at about 520,000.
The European Union is quietly pushing for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making it clear to Israel that Jewish settlements on Palestinian land are not a part of the state of Israel under international law, and as such any business with Jewish settlements are a violation of EU law.
The EU dealt a harsh blow to Israeli settlement enterprises in July by insisting that all future agreements between the EU and Israel must explicitly exclude occupied territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, this policy is bearing fruit as both the Netherlands and the Romania are actively encouraging businesses not to engage in trade with West Bank settlements.
After two years of talks with Israel, Romania has said it will stop sending construction workers to Israel, as Israel cannot guarantee workers will not be working in the West Bank. The two sides have clashed on this issue and have failed to come to an agreement, despite Israel’s shortage of workers in the construction sector.
In a separate negotiations, Vitens, the Netherlands’ largest supplier of drinking water, announced it was cutting ties with the Israeli national water company Mekorot because of the “political context” of Israel’s West Bank settlements.
The Dutch firm decided to cut ties on the grounds that Mekorot drills for water in the West Bank.
As preparations begin for the launch of the Dutch-Israeli Cooperation Forum this month, there are feeling within the Israeli government that the EU is pushing for sanctions against Israel through backdoor policies.
This month, the Israeli government was preparing to strengthen relations with Holland, but in a sudden reversal of policy, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, canceled her visit to Mekorot. This snub has fuelled Israeli anger and resentment.
On the firing line is the EU policy that prohibits the issuing of grants, funding and scholarships without a clear settlement-exclusion clause. Under this ruling, Israeli institutions and bodies situated across the pre-1967 border will be automatically ineligible.
This policy has angered Israeli officials, who are calling this an “earthquake,” and prompted furious criticism from the Israeli prime minister.
The EU’s “territorial applicability clause” spells out that there can be consequences for flouting United Nations resolutions and international law. While small in scope, they may affect the population of Jewish settlements, which now sits at about 520,000.
Trade between the EU and Israel has not been affected by the agreement, but individual European governments are looking for clearer labelling of products originating from the settlements.
Leading the way for clearer labelling is the UK. Last year, its Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sent a request to retailers, consumer groups and NGOs seeking greater clarity on which origin should be printed on food and drink labels that have been produced and packed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Labelling is just one part of the problem, making sure businesses respect U.N. resolutions and EU regulations is another matter.
This week, the UK warned businesses to stay away from the occupied territories. Its department of trade and investment issued this statement:
“EU citizens and businesses should also be aware of the potential reputational implications of getting involved in economic and financial activities in settlements, as well as possible abuses of the rights of individuals.”
The UK wants to make it clear that there are risks in doing business in the settlements, and the government will not “encourage or offer support to such activity.”
This has led Israeli diplomats to issue a statement of retaliation and thinly guised threats.
In an interview with Haaretz, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official said the UK’s action at this time will only do harm. The official also pointed out that no similar actions were issued regarding other regions in dispute, such as the Western Sahara or Tibet.
In the wake of failed negotiations, the lingering death throes of the two-state solution and the recent election of an Israeli government that does not appear to believe in its own two-state policy, it seems the EU has grown impatient and is no longer willing to bankroll the nonexistent or virtual “peace process” and so is seeking more immediate solutions.
By tightening EU policy, as well as making it enforceable, its governments are sending a clear message to Israel that its unlawful occupation of Palestinian land will incur penalties.
How far the EU is willing to go on the issue remains a matter of debate. At this time, the EU has not indicated that it is considering a boycott of Israel, but the Israelis have signaled distress at the change in what seems to be a shift in EU sentiment.