Spain, Italy Warn Citizens Against Doing Business With Settlements

Nations join France, U.K. and Germany in advising against legal and financial risks.

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Prefabricated homes are seen in the settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus. May 7, 2014.
Prefabricated homes are seen in the settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus. May 7, 2014.Credit: Reuters

The Spanish and Italian governments issued a warning to their citizens on Friday against doing business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, and in the Golan Heights. The foreign ministries of both countries announced that companies engaging in economic activity in the settlements would be making themselves vulnerable to a series of risks.

According to the announcements made by Spain and Italy, the European Union and its member states do not recognize Israeli rule in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were conquered in 1967, and regard the settlements as illegal in international law.

For this reason, the announcements stated, private companies doing business, transferring funds, investing money, signing contracts, buying land or receiving tourist services from companies in the settlements would be taking legal and financial risks.

“The current situation could lead to disputes over land, water, quarries or natural resources that were acquired or in which money was invested,” read the statement from the Spanish Foreign Ministry. “Companies must take into account that [financial activity in the settlements] is liable to lead to their involvement in breaking international law and violating human rights.”

Spanish Foreign Ministry officials told the Spanish news agency EFE that the warning was not a sanction or boycott of Israel — actions that the Spanish government opposes. They said that the warning was the implementation of a decision by the European Union and alignment with actions taken by Germany, France and the United Kingdom. “We have no intention of harming commerce or cooperation with Israel inside its internationally-recognized borders,” they said, referring to the 1967 lines.

Speaking at a seminar organized by the Geneva Initiative of Friday morning, EU envoy to Israel Lars Fabourg-Andersen said the warnings, which "should not come as a surprise," point towards the fact that EU member states "are losing their patience with concerns not being treated" by Israel.

He added that the precise wording of European Commission's general warning regarding private bodies' economic activity in the settlements is still being hashed out.

"The EU is more consistently implementing existing policy, and taking further steps to disengage from the settlements," said Andersen, adding that if settlement construction continues, additional EU member states will publish similar warnings.

EU institutions consider general warninig

On Tuesday, the French government issued a similar warning, in which it warned against engaging in financial activity or investments in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in the Golan Heights. A French diplomat said the warning was part of a joint act by the five largest countries in the European Union — Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain.

The United Kingdom and Germany issued such warnings several months ago, and now, in light of the failure of the talks between Israel and the Palestinians and the European protests over the recent wave of construction in the settlements, three more countries joined them.

The French warning and the coordination among the five largest countries in the European Union has taken place against the backdrop of discussions that have been held in recent weeks in EU institutions in Brussels about issuing a general warning of the European Commission to businesspeople throughout the EU not to engage in economic activity in the settlements.

The new warning from the French Foreign Ministry against financial activity in the settlements is non-binding. A French person who conducts financial activity in the settlements will not be breaking the law in France. But similar cases over the past year, similar warnings have led to an increase in boycotts by members of Europe’s private sector of the settlements and of Israeli businesses that operate in the settlements.

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