Opinion |

Don't Label Israeli Settlement Products. Ban Them

There is nothing ethical in trading in products made with stolen natural resources on stolen land. There can be no meaningful peace process that normalizes war crimes and violations of international law

Saeb Erekat
Saeb Erekat
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An Israeli soldier blocks an entrance to the Jewish settlers' zone of Hebron's Tel Rumeida neighborhood,near Shuhada Street in the West Bank city's center. September 18, 2016
An Israeli soldier blocks an entrance to the Jewish settlers' zone of Hebron's Tel Rumeida neighborhood,near Shuhada Street in the West Bank city's center. September 18, 2016Credit: HAZEM BADER / AFP
Saeb Erekat
Saeb Erekat

November 15 marks 31 years since the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. A courageous document of national sentiments mixed with pragmatism, in which the Palestine National Council, the PLO's legislative body, declared the State of Palestine's independence on the 1967 borders, and its commitment to international law and all United Nations resolutions.

So far, this has been the only real concession, a historic compromise, made by either side towards achieving peace in the Middle East.

Now is a time when many question the viability of the two-state solution - and others try to redefine its elements. It's more important than ever to remember the basic requirements of any political solution ensuring a just and lasting peace in our region.

The main reason why many believe that the two-state solution is no longer possible is because of Israel's colonial settlements, a systematic Israeli policy since 1967.

This policy is founded on the constant creation of facts on the ground, aimed at its irreversibility. It is designed to make it impossible for the people of Palestine to exercise their inalienable rights, notably our right to self-determination.

That aim has been understood by most international bodies, including the conclusion of the International Court of Justice's Advisory Opinion on the Wall in 2004. Under international law, the policy of colonial-settlements is tantamount to a war crime.

But the question remains: What happens after such solid legal arguments against Israeli settlements? What did the international community do? Very little.

Few policies aimed at the settlements have been implemented, despite clear and firm international resolutions. International markets continue to trade with Israeli settlements, and global companies continue to be involved with the Israeli occupation. Their actions have facilitated the growth of the settlement project. There is a clear correlation between the absence of accountability and the expansion of Israeli settlements.

A young Israeli settler fixes the Israeli flag outside a Palestinian house occupied overnight by settlers in the West Bank town of Hebron. March 27, 2018Credit: HAZEM BADER / AFP

To avoid international condemnations, Israel has cynically used its involvement in the peace process to prevent United Nations resolutions. In 1997, the Clinton administration vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning Israel's construction of the illegal settlement of Har Homa, on the land of Jabal Abu Ghneim in Beit Sahour. The U.S. argued that, while condemning settlements, the resolutuion would negatively affect the peace process.

Israel got the message, and today, the number of settlers has almost tripled compared to the beginning of the peace process.

Does that mean that the two-state solution is impossible? No. It means that it is more difficult to achieve.

Working for the two-state solution involves acting against its main obstacle - the Israeli occupation - to prevent any attempt at normalizing the presence of settlements. It means, furthermore, that settlements must be turned into a burden for Israel and its supporters.

A large percentage of settlers live in occupied Palestine thanks to the economic incentives they receive, including benefits from international agreements signed with Israel, and the support of several organizations working freely in Western countries, such as the Jewish National Fund.

That is why the decision of the European Union Court of Justice regarding the labeling of Israeli settlement products is an important step. It reiterates the international obligation of differentiation between Israel and the territory it occupies, as laid out in UN Security Council resolution 2334.

Still, we believe that settlement products shouldn't just be labelled, but banned.

There is nothing ethical in trading in products made with stolen natural resources on stolen land.

That is why we cannot understand why the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, still hasn't fulfilled the mandate given to her by the UN Human Rights Council in Resolution 31/36 - to publish the long-overdue list of companies involved with the Israeli occupation.

The Palestinian leadership has done its best to find legal, diplomatic, and political venues to protect, advance, and fulfill our inalienable rights. Our efforts included the protection of our heritage sites through UNESCO, and membership of the International Criminal Court.

But despite the abundant evidence of Israeli crimes and violations, it has been undoubtedly disappointing to see certain governments putting pressure on the court and other international venues to avoid taking action.

The images that came out over the past few days, including the assassination of Omar Badawi in the Al Arroub Refugee camp and the killing of dozens of people in less than 48 hours in besieged Gaza, such as the al-Sawarki family, can also be understood in the context of a general impunity granted to Israel.

A woman waves a Palestinian flag during a protest calling for lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza at the Israel-Gaza border fence east of Gaza City. September 28, 2018Credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

How can any government claim to support the two-state solution if they are not willing to enact the available and legitimate accountability mechanisms to end Israel's occupation?

There are voices in the international community who prefer to criticize our approaches to international forums, rather than addressing the real issue. The real issue isn't whether we Palestinians seek justice at the UN, but a widespread lack of political will to implement its resolutions and charter.

Despite the pressures from certain parties, we will continue making use of international forums, including Item 7 of the UN Human Rights Council, not only because it is our right, but also because we are confident that, sooner rather than later, they will deliver results.

There can be no meaningful peace process that normalizes war crimes and violations. As we mark 31 years since that declaration of the State of Palestine's independence, on just 22 percent of our historic homeland, we remain committed to establishing strong international alliances to support the goal of peacemaking in the Middle East, including the Arab Peace Initiative.

As we move forward, we will continue to expend every possible effort towards the fulfillment of the most fundamental requirement of the two-state solution: the end of Israel's occupation of our land and people.

Dr. Saeb Erekat is the Secretary General of the PLO and Chief Palestinian negotiator. Twitter: @ErakatSaeb

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