Beyond labelling: How Europe can save the two-state solution

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Israel's security boundary, demarcating the Occupied Palestinian Territories from Israel, and its settlement areas. Bethlehem, 2011. [libertinus/Flickr]

The EU Foreign Affairs Council last month reaffirmed its policy of differentiating between products made in Israel, and those produced in settlements. By so doing, it upheld the principle underpinning in its labeling guidelines of November 2015, writes Mousa Jiryis.

Mousa Jiryis is a Policy Member of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.

The guidelines provide EU consumers with the information they need to make a conscious individual decision not to buy settlement products marketed in the EU.

Clearly, however, the EU’s labeling policy is not forceful enough to incentivize Israel to think about quitting the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). It is far too puny to change “the cost/benefit calculations of Israelis towards the status quo”, which is what is needed, as noted in a 2015 report by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

If the EU intended to pick this row with Israel in order to advance the two-state solution, it has failed miserably. Indeed, given the mudslinging by Israel and its US allies against the European diplomats who supported this measure, the Europeans have sold themselves short: they might as well have picked the fight over something more substantial.

Europe needs to do more, and soon, if it still believes in the two-state solution. It needs to first face reality and, second, to act on that recognition vis-à-vis Israel itself.

The fact is that the government of Israel is the prime mover behind the occupation and the settlement project in the OPT. If the EU is still committed to bringing about a two-state solution, then it needs stronger measures not just against the settlements (the physical manifestation of occupation), but also against the instigators of occupation, i.e. the Israeli government. The EU Foreign Affairs Council concluded that its stated policy “does not constitute a boycott of Israel which the EU strongly opposes.” But if the EU does not intend to boycott the real power behind the settlement project doesn’t this render its role in conflict resolution toothless and inadequate?

Settlement as government policy

EU diplomats must face the facts: Settlement policy is the government of Israel’s policy. A 2014 report by the Adva Center pointed out that “in the last 20 years, the number of settlers in the territories soared by 240%, in contrast to a 60% increase in the overall Israeli population”. These were, of course, the two decades since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords. In the 2015-16 state budget Israel continues to make extensive allocations to settlements in the OPT. Furthermore, as detailed in a Peace Now investigation in December 2015, there is irrevocable evidence that the Israeli government directly funds pro-settler organisations.

In short, if Europe really intends to incentivise Israel to end its settlement project, then it will have to do the exact opposite of what it said at the last EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting and embrace boycott as a basis for its conflict-resolution strategy. If Europe’s stated aim is to advance the two-state solution by withdrawing its support of illegal Israeli occupation and settlement-building, then it will have to boycott pro-settler Israel.

The government of Israel, its military occupation forces, the Israel Electric Corporation, Israel Railways, Israel’s National Water Company, the municipality of Jerusalem and the National Transport Infrastructure Company all play a vital role in ensuring that settlements continue to thrive in the OPT. This list is by no means exhaustive.

The settlements rely on these entities to exist. If the EU does not boycott these entities, then its policies are simply ineffective. It should be noted that boycotting these organizations does not amount to a boycott of the totality of Israel. The EU can unapologetically state that it no longer intends to do business with the settlements and with the entities that play a role in supporting the settlement enterprise, but that it will not boycott Israel.

In short, Europe should stop procrastinating and recognise the obvious: sanctions are required now. Indeed, EU ministers did warn of “further action” if additional steps further “undermined a two-state solution But why not take further action now in the face of the compelling evidence that Israel plans exactly that?

Perhaps the EU is hoping that the US will relieve them of the burden of action. However, there is little hope that the US will take action against Israel’s settlement project, thus allowing Europe to continue procrastinating.

As I recently argued with my colleague Sam Bahour, the time is at hand for European leadership to bring a just and lasting solution to this tragic and longstanding conflict. The labeling requirement will have little impact on Israel’s settlement policy. The EU must start to implement a policy of boycott and sanctions of Israel’s settlement policy and infrastructure. And it must start now.

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