An Irish parliamentary committee is to call for a ban on imports from illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories following a presentation by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade unanimously agreed to write to the Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, ‘calling for a national ban on imports from illegal Israeli settlements’. In its presentation to the committee, EAPPI described the settlements as the ‘biggest barrier to peace’ in the region.
According to the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, there are 124 settlements in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) with 501,856 settlers living in the West Bank and 190,425 in East Jerusalem. In a Parliamentary Briefing in June this year, the Quakers described settlements as ’illegal under international law, a major cause of poverty amongst Palestinians and an obstacle to peace’. Like the EAPPI in Ireland, the Quakers in Britain have called for a ban on imports from settlements saying that ‘it is the role of governments to protect the consumer from purchasing goods from an illegal source and so is calling on the UK Government to impose a ban’.
The infrastructure accompanying the settlements includes permanent checkpoints, road blocks and gates that separate Palestinian towns and villages and severely limit Palestinian freedom of movement. This infrastructure including the construction of settler roads, security, and financial incentives for settlement costs approximately $550 million per annum. With 62 percent of the West Bank under Israeli control, most of the territory’s fertile land, water and resources are denied to Palestinians. Moreover, many settlers, particularly those ideologically motivated, have visited violence upon Palestinians on a consistent basis since the commencement of settlement construction and mostly with legal impunity. In its 2011 annual country report on terrorism, the United States’ State Department defined settler violence as ‘terrorism’ citing examples of attacks on Palestinian civilians and private property.
These factors persuaded Irish parliamentarians to take action and call on the foreign Minister to initiate a ban suggesting that Ireland had the legal framework to do so. Although the value of settlement imports into Ireland is estimated at €7 to €8 million per year, EAPPI believes Ireland ‘could take a powerfully symbolic and moral stance’ by introducing a ban. There is also reason to believe that the minister would be sympathetic to such a call having previously stated that he ‘would support any move at EU level to exclude settlement products from entry to the EU’. However, the minister believes that Ireland could not unilaterally support a ban believing that such a move would require an EU common position.
The minister now has an opportunity to revisit that position in the light of EAPPI’s presentation to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and that body’s decision to support a ban. Ireland has a long and proud tradition of partnership and development co-operation with countries in the global South. It also has considerable influence within the European Union, particularly in the context of its upcoming Presidency of the Council of the European Union in January 2013. Now is the moment to introduce a unilateral ban on settlement imports and urge its partners in the EU to follow suit.
Al Haq, ‘Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory’, http://www.alhaq.org/images/stories/PDF/qa-settlements.pdf
Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, ‘Farming Palestine for Freedom’, http://www.al-shabaka.org/policy-brief/economic-issues/farming-palestine-freedom?page=2
B’Tselem, ‘Land Expropriation and Settlements Statistics’, 8 July 2012
Haaretz, ‘U.S. State Department defines settler violence as terrorism’, 18 August 2012
Irish Times, ‘Call for ban on Israeli settlement imports’, 19 September 2012
Quakers in Britain, ‘Call for UK Government to Ban Israeli Settlement Goods’, http://www.quaker.org.uk/news/news-release-call-uk-government-ban-israeli-settlement-goods
Sadaka Briefing 21, ‘Ireland supports EU ban on settlement goods’, November 2011, http://www.sadaka.ie/Articles/Briefings/BRIEFING-Ireland_supports_EU_ban_on_settlement_goods.pdf
Stephen McCloskey is Director of the Centre for Global Education, a development NGO based in Belfast and editor of the development education journal Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review. His publications include (with Gerard McCann) From the Local to the Global: Key issues in Development Studies (Pluto Press, 2003 & 2008). He is currently delivering education projects in the Gaza Strip.
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