February 27, 2013 5:57 pm

EU backs cutting support for Jewish settlements

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An internal EU report recommends curbing trade, investment and tourism in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in a sign of further hardening of diplomatic attitudes against Israel’s policy in occupied Palestinian territory.

The report urges member states to ensure that products manufactured in settlements, such as fruit and vegetables, are clearly labelled and do not benefit from the preferential trade treatment due other Israeli goods.

The report, prepared by EU diplomats based in Israel and seen by the Financial Times, also urges members to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about the problematic implication of financial transactions” in Jewish settlements.

It suggests, for example, that EU tour operators follow “voluntary guidelines” to avoid supporting settler-owned businesses in occupied east Jerusalem.

“Israel is actively perpetuating its illegal annexation of east Jerusalem by systematically undermining the Palestinian presence through restrictive zoning and planning,” the report says.

In Brussels, a spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative, declined to comment on its contents. EU officials played down the report as an annual exercise intended to give policy-makers a better feel for the situation on the ground, and to inform their debate.

The most recent edition was discussed at a meeting of member state diplomats earlier this month. Several people familiar with that gathering said they did not expect it to result in any concrete decisions.

A UK official said there were no plans to introduce EU or domestic legislation to ban Israeli settlement products.

Although the guidelines fall short of the calls for a strong EU boycott of settlement-produced goods for which some activists have been calling, the report is more sharply worded than similar ones in previous years – perhaps reflecting the mounting frustration in many member states.

The EU has never recognised Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, and has been a persistent critic of its settlement policies, with foreign ministers warning in May that these could “make a two-state solution impossible”.

Israel’s plans to expand settlement activity in E1, east of Jerusalem, have in particular angered European officials. The report calls on Brussels to “co-ordinate EU monitoring and a strong EU response in order to prevent settlement construction in E1”. It also suggests that national governments “explore the possibility” of excluding settlers known to be violent.

Israel exported €12.6bn in goods to the EU in 2011, helped by a 2009 trade deal that lowers duties on agricultural goods. Of that sum, produce from settlement territories amounted to about $300m, according to the World Bank.

“The EU has been forthright in condemning settlements and their expansion, and yet they continue to import produce from these same settlements and in doing so, contribute directly to their viability and expansion,” said Neill Ó Cíoráin, a campaigner at Al-Haq, a Ramallah-based human rights group.

EU officials said the labelling policy was a matter of “active discussion” to ensure that consumers were informed. Nonetheless, an internal EU briefing paper suggested that Brussels believes Israel generally complies with its obligations under the trade deal and properly labels produce.

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