Labeling of settlement products — Yes, Boycott of Israel — No

The new EU policy of labeling products made in settlements as being produced in the West Bank is not anti-Israeli.  It is a statement of fact, that the said products are manufactured in the West Bank  which the entire international community defines as an occupied territory.  It is also clearly an expression of international dissatisfaction with the continuation of the occupation and the lack of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based upon a two-state solution. Therefore, this act is in the best interest of all Israelis who seek an end to the conflict based upon the peace and security that will be provided by the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state living alongside the State of Israel, which is far preferable to the current situation of periodic mutual rounds of violence.

The labels will not say “Made in Israel”.  How could they?  After all, the settlements are not in the State of Israel.  I can understand why the Israeli Foreign Ministry, under the direction of Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, sent emissaries last Friday to the EU in Brussels to try to persuade them that labeling the settlement products is “anti-Israeli”.  After all, she has said that handing over “Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) aren’t even on the list of options we’re offering the Palestinians,” adding that Prime Minister Netanyahu “never said that the evacuation of Judea and Samaria is an option…It’s not a bargaining chip. It does not depend on the Palestinians’ goodwill. It’s the land of our forefathers.” And she added to Israeli journalists who questioned her assertion, “isn’t that government policy?”

“Evacuating Judea and Samaria are not an option”: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely


What exactly is the position of the Israeli government?

Well, on the one hand, the Prime Minister said during his Bar-Ilan speech in 2009 that he was in favor of a two state solution, and he has periodically reiterated that idea, though it is not part of his government’s guidelines or in the Likud Party platform.

So maybe the EU act of labeling settlement products will force Netanyahu to clearly define what his goals are.  If he is in favor of a two-state solution, which everyone understands will require the establishment of a Palestinian state in the overwhelming majority of the West Bank (Gaza and East Jerusalem), then there is something to work with. According to Raviv Drucker’s program current Channel 10 TV series on the history of recent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Prime Minister Ehud Barak was ready to offer the Palestinians 91% of the West Bank at Camp David 2000 for their future state, and we know that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was ready to offer the Palestinians 94% of the West Bank, along with mutually agreed upon land swaps.  What is Netanyahu’s proposed map for the land of the future Palestinian state?  According to both the Palestinian and the Americans negotiating teams (Dr. Saeb Erekat and Dr. Martin Indyk), no one knows, because the Israeli team did not put an offer on the table.

MKs and government ministers who do not live in Israel

Israel is perhaps the only country which has members of its parliament, the Knesset, who do not live in the country. The MKs who live in settlements in the Occupied Territories are Israeli citizens, but they are not residents of the State of Israel. The same is true for government ministers like Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel.

This anomaly needs to be clarified, and the EU labeling policy will help to clarify it.

All settlers were evacuated during the Yom Kippur War

One of the things I am most proud of, is the fact that during the Yom Kippur War back in 1973, I represented my kibbutz, Barkai, in a debate of the Kibbutz Artzi Hashomer Hatzair federation about whether to establish a new kibbutz on the edge of the Golan Heights.  At the time, my Combat Engineering Corp unit was based in Kuneitra, on the front lines facing the Syrian forces.  I had to ask my battalion commander for permission to go to Tel Aviv to participate in the discussion.  His response was “yes, go tell them that we don’t need any settlements on the Heights to protect the Israeli civilians in the Upper Galilee.  They only get in the way.”

He was referring to the fact that when the war broke out, all of the settlers on the Heights were evacuated.  So I went down to Tel Aviv, wearing my uniform and carrying my gun, to participate in the first of two conference sessions, which led to an unprecedented resolution.  A kibbutz, Geshur, would be established on the ridge of the Golan Heights, but if it would serve as an obstacle to a peace agreement, it would be voluntarily moved to Israel proper.

Settlements don’t contribute to the security of the country

To bring this discussion to today’s events, Nachum Barnea writes in Friday’s edition of Yediot Ahronot that a military authority drew his attention to the fact that in the current wave of Palestinian attacks since the brutal murder of the Henkin family on October 1st, not a single Israeli civilian was killed in the West Bank.  All of the Israeli deaths were of IDF soldiers or Border Policemen.  Therefore, the  official declared that the security forces are the “flack jacket” protecting the settlers with their bodies.  Barnea added another possible interpretation, that “contrary to the general assumption, the settlements don’t contribute to the security of the country.  They are dependent upon the IDF, the IDF is not dependent on them”.   And he adds, “the question is, what is good and correct for the security of the state. Construction in the settlements is damaging: it encourages Palestinian terror and it undermines the international relations of the state.  Israel is perceived as a colonial state which should be boycotted not because of the presence of the IDF in the territories, but first and foremost because of the construction in the settlements.”  His conclusion, “Israel should openly declare a halt in settlement construction, and leave the land to the IDF,” until an agreement is reached.

It should be clear that the settlements do not contribute to the security of the State of Israel.  Therefore, the question is — what are the goals of the government of the State of Israel?  Is it seriously ready to negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians, with the aim of achieving a two-state solution, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem alongside the State of Israel, with mutually agreed upon land swaps, which would probably enable 80% of the settlers living adjacent to the Green Line to remain within the future internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel?

The EU labeling policy can help to clarify this question.

This does not mean that I support BDS, a boycott of the State of Israel proper.   It is the settlement products which should be labeled, not the products produced in Israel proper.

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv