UK Foreign Office boycotting the occupation

There’s an article in the Jewish Chronicle about the Foreign Office’s demands that goods produced outside the Green Line be labelled accordingly, to keep the terms of the Israel-EU trade agreement.

I haven’t really considered the question of boycotting the occupation adequately. For example, I know little about the circumstances of the settlements – how many generations their populations lived in them before Israel was established, the circumstances in which they grew up (again) after 1967. I don’t know how to respond to the Palestinian Authority Laws which forbids (with a death penalty) the sale of land to Jews. In the event of a two state solution, it looks as if the Jews in the settlements would not be safe to remain and pay their taxes to a Palestinian government. Israel’s security barrier is a big hint at a unilateral two-state solution and the settlers outside it are getting frantic about their homes and politically desperate. I know little about them, except they have a reputation for violence. There is certainly more to them than that, though. There always is, for everybody.

At the same time, occupiers shouldn’t get too comfortable on occupied land. If they have made it this far, there are two 3rd Year students from the settlements at City on Rosemary Hollis’s Olive Tree scholarships (6 Palestinian and 6 Israelis undertake a degree programme with a parallel social, cultural and academic programme towards conflict resolution). I would really love to hear their views on this.

I heard Rosemary Hollis (what a woman!) not long ago at SOAS talking about how both Israelis and Palestinians prefer a strong and uncompromising power to hide behind during the peace process. The US failed as this under Bush, as it ultimately did under Clinton after his affair with Lewinsky broke. So the news that the EU may take action to put targeted pressure on Israel to stop settlement expansion is pretty hopeful, given that the Israeli government may need to turn to its electorate and pro-settlement coalition members and make a strong case for a withdrawal. Pro-settlement coalition members opportunistically negotiate settlement expansion when they get the chance – Shas after the Mercav Harav seminary bombing being one example.

Labelling West Bank products by postcode, as required by the Foreign Office suggested by Mandelson, would allow people to distinguish between Israeli products from the settlement blocs which were negotiated at Taba to remain with Israel and those from the settlements beyond those areas.

There is a will in Israel to pull out of the settlements – maybe an uncompromising position on settlement expansion and the products of the settlements could help Israeli moderates to advance a peaceful resolution to the conflict and an end to the occupation.

If so, then I’m up for it. If not, then I’m not.

Update: The EU’s trade relations with Israel are not anything special – they’re part of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership was struck in Barcelona in 95, supported by E16bn from the EU budget for regulatory harmonisation, to create a free trade zone in the Mediterranean region. The countries of the Southern Mediterranean rim hardly trade among each other and the EU seeks better integration. The EU has an agreement with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia. Spot who’s missing?  The EU-Syria Association Agreement has been initialled but not yet ratified – Syria is pursuing WTO accession but has made little progress. The texts of the Association Agreements are turgid and the link to the Palestinian Authority one is dead. The EU is Israel’s biggest export market (Israel’s population has been subject to an official boycott by the Arab countries since before it was established) – the agreement involves waiving duty (There’s also a Code of Conduct on Countering Terrorism which “recognise[s] the links between peace, security, social and economic development and human rights”.)

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10 thoughts on “UK Foreign Office boycotting the occupation

  1. just scanned things, but does the FO require such labelling from other countries?

    maybe labels like “Product of Tibet (Annexed and Occupied by China)” would be a bit off putting and I’ll bet that the PRC leadership would tell the FO to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.

    Still, “Produced by….. (Dictatorship approved by many Western states)” isn’t as snappy either?

  2. Quite right Mod – there are plenty of occupying powers in the world and singling out Israel for special opprobrium is sick.

    But this is about Europe – it relates to the specific terms of the EU Trade agreement.

    (Like you I’m not familiar with them.)

  3. Food (like many products) has to be labelled with it’s country of origin – so if you buy stuff from Tibet or Burma you can make a reasonably informed decesion about it. This of course assumes that you give a damm and aren’t completly ignorant of world politics.

    Having read this post and spent a few minutes scanning fasicating documents from the EU I am not much the wiser. However, it seems to originate from the fact the stuff from inside Israel can be labelled as EU but if it is outside the ‘green line’ then it can’t. There is lots of scope for confusion about food labelling ie ‘produced in’ doesn’t mean the food comes from there. I am not sure what the labels are supposed to say but if it were along the lines of ‘produced in the occupied west bank’ then this would be over and above other countries. If they are just trying to remove the EU labelling this doesn’t seem quite so bad and does involve both carrot and stick as presumably the Israel/EU deal offices some finacial benefits.

    But returning to the question are they making an example of Israel? I think they probably are but then attitudes and policy to some of the other places mentioned is slightly confused to say the least. Burma very bad and pressure applied http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2007/sep/30/money.burma and http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/sep/28/insurance.foreignpolicy (sorry you got the Gaurdian twice in one comment). China not quite so bad but mainly allowed to do whatever they want, including hosting the olympics.

    Does this comment seem slightly confused – well that’s because I am.

  4. I think the EU and the FO go where the wind blows if Israel had a population of 1.3 billion, then they’d act differently, but as it is, they couldn’t really give a damn if any of their policies upset the Israelis.

    There’s not much the Israelis can do in return, but imagine a Chinese trade boycott of Britain, for a week or one month, business would be screaming, and Miliband Jr. would then happily scoot off to Beijing for a session of Kowtowing.

    It is economic and political might that the EU/FO respect, nothing else.

  5. Mod I think you’re right about 1.3 bn.

    But the UK Government made quite a big deal of passing over the academic boycott with initiatives like BIRAX – and there’s another one, I forget which. And there’s that multi-million EU research pot Israel gets to bid for. And Tempus. Might this latest not be what it says on the tin – action to keep the roadmap alive? There are some things that Israel can do unilaterally – I’m very ignorant about the conflict but freeze the settlements would seem to be one of those.

  6. Incidentally, Matty, you are slumbering on the couch just feet away from me as I write to thank you for the information above. I am now going to wake you up and we will proceed to bed. Maybe we will even exchange a few words on the way – who knows.

  7. Yes we act differently with China but then we are a bit like Israel in comparison to China – there is very little we can do.

    This really brings us to the question of if we can’t do everything should we do nothing? Strategically it’s basically impossible for the FCO to act against China but with other countries it can.

    Should they be more careful about how they do it? Yes
    Should they make sure they don’t single any particular country out? Yes
    Have the FCO singled out Israel? Not sure
    Is this a boycott? Probably not but it makes it easier for other to boycott.

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