Labeling settlement goods only strengthens the occupation

When the Israeli government does everything in its power to erase the Green Line and subjugate the Palestinian economy, boycotting settlement goods does little to challenge the regime.

Palestinians Burn Settlment Products in Front of the Karmei Tzur Settlement. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana
Palestinians Burn Settlment Products in Front of the Karmei Tzur Settlement. (photo: Joseph Dana)

In order to understand the decision by the European Parliament on Thursday to overwhelmingly support a motion in support of labeling of goods produced in West Bank settlements on, one must look at a different event that took place Europe a few weeks back.

Two weeks ago, a Luxembourg supermarket chain “Cactus” decided to boycott fruits and vegetables made in Israel. The reason: Israeli vegetable suppliers do not mark produce that comes from the settlements. The result: after pressure by consumers against selling settlement goods, Cactus decided not to carry any Israeli produce at all.

Back to the parliament: the significance of the decision to label the goods, which is set to become the operative policy of the European Commission, is two-fold. On one hand, we see another diplomatic maneuver on the part of the EU as a result of its dissatisfaction from an ongoing occupation and an Israeli government (and opposition leadership) that seems disinterested in ever ending it.

You might hear a semi-critical person in Luxembourg or Berlin saying: “I don’t buy settlement goods.” He or she may even add: “But I am not anti-Israel. On the contrary. I buy Israeli products that aren’t tainted by the military regime.”

This despite the fact that the separation between the two is entirely artificial. After all, how does one view a product made inside Israel, but which uses raw materials from the West Bank and sends its waste to an industrial zone that exploits Palestinians? How is one supposed to view a bank headquartered on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard that gives mortgages to homes in West Bank settlements. Or what about a product made entirely in Israel, but whose company pays taxes that end up going to the defense budget, the next war on Gaza, or home demolitions in the Jordan Valley?

Long-term optimism?

The European Union is trying to highlight the Green Line in a reality where Israel continues to erase it whenever it is convenient. The EU is trying to pretend as if there are two separate different regimes — a democratic, legitimate one in Israel, and a military regime in a faraway land — in a reality where there is no distinction between the two regimes headed by the same government in Jerusalem.

Like Noam Sheizaf wrote recently, the EU continues to help Israel maintain the occupation while refraining from taking active steps to limit its activities. Meanwhile, it spends money on infrastructure for Palestinians — what should be Israel’s obligation as the sole, sovereign ruler of the occupied territories.

However, one could be more optimistic and say that there is something encouraging about the EU’s attempts to back up its claims and actively attempt to harm the settlement economy. There is something positive about the Israeli public being forced to deal with the fact that even according to Israeli law, the settlements are outside the borders of the country, and that they are an inseparable part of a single regime that maintains two different legal systems.

One can also say that the current step is only the first of many, and that as EU pressure to separate the settlements from the rest of the country grows, maintaining the occupation will become much more difficult.

All of this seems very far from where we find ourselves today and it certainly does not bring Palestinians any closer to freedom, independence, and equality. The solution they need is somewhere between two sovereign, interconnected democratic states and one state for both nations. But in order to get there, we must first recognize the fact that today there is only one state, which includes islands of pseudo-autonomous prisons for Palestinians. This is the same state on both sides of the Green Line.

Until we fully internalize this reality, Luxembourg’s Cactus might as well return to selling Israeli products.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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