The illegal settlement of Ariel, one out of the four largest settlements in the West Bank

UN Resolution 446: ‘the settlements have no legal validity, and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East’.

The Problem

Settlements are built on occupied Palestinian and Syrian land. The international community, including the UK, US and European Union (EU) are agreed that they are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.

As the occupying power, the Israeli government has an absolute requirement to uphold international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring it’s citizens to occupied territory, and this has been confirmed by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). But since 1967 Israeli Governments have established and expanding the settlements in the Occupied Palestine Territories (OPT), both in terms in their area and population.

Illegal Israeli settlements, the infrastructure that supports them and the land expropriation and demolitions that precede their expansion, poses the most significant threat to the viability of the two state solution. They create realities (facts) on the ground that infringe the Palestinian’s right to self-determination, equality, and economic opportunities.

Over half a million settlers live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, alongside over 2.8 million Palestinian people. The settler population has more than doubled since the conclusion of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, the proposed framework for peace.

In “Area C” (which accounts for two thirds of the West Bank) only 1% of land is allocated for Palestinian construction. 70% is allocated for Israeli settlement or military activity. The Israeli road network linking settlements – and a complex system of checkpoints, roadblocks and permits – restricts freedom of movement and impinges on Palestinian’s basic human rights. Access to jobs, markets, schools, hospitals, farming land, and water is severely restricted. The completion of Separation Barrier (Wall) encircles the settlements, connects them to Israel and will further isolate Palestinian populations. Israel continues to exploit natural resources in the OPT. 80% of water extracted from the West Bank mountain aquifer goes to Israelis

Settlement expansion has accelerated under the cover of the negotiations launched by US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013, and has been widely accepted as the main reason for the failure of the peace talks. During the nine month negotiations, plans and tenders for at least 13,581 settlement housing units – an average of 50 per day – were promoted by the Israeli Government. Settlement building “starts” in 2013 were double that of 2012.

This has occurred alongside an increase in settler violence, which has doubled over the past five years. In 2013 there were 399 settlement related attack. Settler violence in tolerated, and in some cases facilitated, by the Israeli authorities – who are legally obliged to protect the Palestinian population. Nine out of ten cases against settlers are closed without action. Demolitions, of structures built without ‘Israeli permits’ for which it is impossible for Palestinians to obtain permission, have also increased significantly.

The credibility of Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution is undermined by their creeping annexation of Palestinian territory.

What can the UK Government do?

The UK Government repeatedly affirm that Israel must cease settlement expansion. Over past decades, the UK, EU, US and international community have consistently condemned settlement policy. But international criticism, UN resolutions, EU statements and international law have had no impact. We urgently need to move from words to action.

Furthermore, the trade and economic policies of the UK and EU actively sustain the settlements. The most recent estimate of the value of EU imports from settlements is £198 million annually – fifteen times the value of EU imports from Palestinians. That means EU countries are importing 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian. By accepting these imports (largely agricultural products, textiles, cosmetics, carbonation devices, plastics and toys) the UK and EU are recognising to Israel’s extension of sovereignty over the OPT.  By trading with settlements and contributing to their permanence, the Government is undermining their stated policy and a considerable level of investment in Palestinian state-building. The UK and EU are providing an incentive for settlements to expand.

Policy Proposals

There is growing awareness about the need to end the contradiction between rhetoric and action. In 2009, the Labour Government issued guidelines for supermarket on settlement labelling, which enable consumers to differentiate between goods from settlements and Palestine. The EU is consulting on extending these guidelines, and recently committed to exclude settlements from bilateral funding agreements. In October 2013 UKTI published guidelines warning businesses about the risks of trading with illegal Israeli settlements.

In June 2014, the EU Council prohibited imports of goods from Crimera and Sevastopol as part of a commitment to non-recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of those places. This sets a precedent for a UK and EU policy of non-recognition of illegal Israeli settlements.

The UK must stop supporting settlements and the injustices they result in. The UK and EU, who is Israel’s biggest trading power and largest donor, have considerable leverage. LFPME want Labour to end the UK’s financial support for settlements – by the Government, businesses and individuals – and send a strong signal to Israel that continuing the occupation will have costs.

We propose that Labour’s Manifesto for 2015 affirms the following:

Labour recognises that Israel’s continued expansion of settlements remains the key obstacle to securing a two state solution and will end trade and investment in these settlements.

Specifically, we would like to see a Labour Government:

  • Ban imports of settlement products into the UK.
  • Ensure that settlements are excluded from any of the UK’s bilateral and multilateral arrangements with Israel.
  • Publish and promote a stronger set of guidelines to businesses and banks to ensure they have no trading, financial or investment links with illegal Israeli settlements.
  • Extend and publically promote the labelling guidelines extend to manufactured products.
  • Prevent financial transactions to settlements through restrictive measures.
  • Introduce an immediate visa ban for violent settlers trying to enter the UK.
  • Insist that Israel disaggregate  settlement data provided to the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Stakeholder and Handling Issues

There would likely be considerable controversy surrounding a decision to end trade and investment with Israeli settlements. This policy would likely be linked to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is widely considered to be obstructive to the two state solution.

The response to this must be that the UK has an obligation to take action under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Settlements are illegal and settlement products involve the producers in numerous breaches of international law – including the use of non-renewable Palestinian resources water and minerals.

The UK has an obligation to do what it can to bring Israel’s breaches of IHL to an end. We also have a duty of “non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty” beyond the Green Line, of which the publication of the EU Guidelines in 2013 were a first step toward implementing. The policies proposed are further steps that the UK can take to fulfil our obligations under international law, which the Coalition are failing to do.
It must also be made explicit that ending trade and investment with settlements is categorically not an anti-Israeli policy, but an anti-settlement policy. It will not impact on Israel’s’ economy as a whole, but the settlement expansion that is undermining peace.

There would be widespread support for this policy position from within the Labour movement. Just some of the stakeholders who would support the end to settlement trade include the TUC, whose congress voted in support of ban of settlement goods and companies that profit from them in 2010; numerous charities and NGOs including Christian Aid; and the Co-operative Group. The issue is of considerable importance for the British Asian population, who overwhelmingly vote Labour.