Steve Apfel is Director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book, 'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and...
Sat,Mar 8,2014 6 AdarII 5774
For how much longer can the war of words over the legality of settlements rage back and forth? Even a final verdict, for or against, would be unproductive. Legal or not, some 400,000 Jews in 130 settlement towns aren’t going anywhere, and demanding that they go reflects a desire for ethnic cleansing that we may relegate to a league for criminal maniacs.
Those without a bone to pick would accept facts on the ground and enter a war of words that will go somewhere. Europe’s trade policy for ‘occupation’ products has a murky record that looks set to get grubby. Now there’s a war worth fighting.
"There do not appear to be any European Commission laws which could be breached by a member state taking the decision to ban the import of settlement produce…”
With this ruling Cambridge professor of international law, James Crawford gave Europe the nod. Go ahead – ban settlement products.
Observe the slippery slope. Notice how freely one can slide from labeling products to a blanket ban on products. From there to a blanket ban on everything made in Israel is no more than a slip. One country has already slid to the very bottom.
“The South African Government reaffirms its policy to increase support for the Palestinian people and the boycott of Israel.”
After all the speaker who handles trade policy, a communist named Rob Davies, had started with a claim that he wanted traders to label goods from Israel correctly, honestly. Goods from the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’ (OPT) should be labeled as such; to protect shoppers – what else. Mark, the man said nothing about boycotting Israel.
Made in Israel or made in the West Bank?
So here’s the thing. Hand in glove with boycotters, politicos speak with forked tongue. When they call for labeling of settlement products they are really initiating a blanket boycott of Israel. They expect a minor label to conceive a major boycott.
And in all probability it will. Thin-skinned company management will contemplate subterfuge logistics, legal risk, reputational harm, picket mob threats. They’ll do the sums and tally up to a business nightmare. Better not stock Israeli goods at all.
Foreign investors can be even more risk-averse. Public servants advised Holland’s leading engineering firm that a treatment plant it was developing to control pollution in the Kidron stream might violate international law. It didn’t take long for the company to quit the project.
Trade policy as a dogged attempt to bring a targeted nation to heel is the art of manipulating law codes for political ends. Economic sanctions lie at the polar end of trade policy. Call them ‘hard diplomacy’, sanctions are clear expressions of the motives for imposing them. We are told that the object of sanctions on Iran is to prevent the mullahs going nuclear.
On the other hand, trade laws and regulations can be ‘soft’ instruments of diplomacy. Their purported purpose often hides real motives. Label regulations are supposedly meant to protect shoppers, but could be a trade ban in a velvet glove.
Europe flirts with a label to identify products made in ‘West Bank Jewish settlements.’ Martin Schulz is the incumbent president of all Europe. Though he personally no-no’s a label scheme, Eurocrats will have their way, he warned Israel.
Martin Schulz 'The President of all Europe'
“There is an enormous pressure, also in the European Parliament, to label products because a lot of my colleagues consider the settlements illegal and think that the rule should be that products coming from regions with an illegal status couldn’t have normal access to the European market.”
Everything the president said may be true, but all is false. Schulz and colleagues remember, hold political office. They might be full of the right virtues and surprise us. Even unelected Eurocrats could be virtuous. So much we may give them but no more. The world of Schulz and colleagues, recall, is ‘EuroWorld’, a hive of bees-in-the-bonnet people, drunk-on-power officious people, agenda driven broad and narrow-thinking people; horse traders and power accumulators, in brief.
'EuroWorld' where expediency rules the roost
When expediency rules the roost, as it rules in EuroWorld, foreign policy may be wrapped in trade law. Even so petty a detail as a product label could be the means to bring some targeted country to heel. It is not at all difficult to apply one and the same law code for a dual purpose: (1) for a genuine trade agreement and (2) for some underhand foreign gamble.
Take Europe’s deal with Morocco. This involved trade law for a genuine agreement. The fishy deal allows Europe to exploit the waters off Western Sahara which are really not Morocco’s to sell. The waters fall under occupied territory, and Brussels won’t recognize Morocco’s claim to them. But that hasn't stopped it paying Morocco for rights to fish the waters. Nor should it have. According to a legal ruling international law is no obstacle, not even for foreign companies to operate in occupied territory.
That was the above-board case. For the below board case consider THE occupation, the one that keeps Europe awake at night. Tick first the box for compatibility. Just as Europe won’t recognise Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara, so it won’t recognize Israel’s claim to the West Bank. It deems both occupations illegal. No problem there.
Now things get grubby. Brussels had no problem making a commercial agreement with Morocco, but with Israel Brussels will have no commercial truck. Horrified Eurocrats throw up their hands: trade agreements would violate international law. The idea of rewarding Jews for occupying territory earmarked for other people is beyond the pale. Down comes the gavel in the court of Brussels, the smack of wood on bench echoing up to the heavenly court. “Our bible is international law,” the Ambassador tells a group of Israeli rabbis, reciting as if taking his oath of office on a sacred screed.
Hereafter murk falls upon the deep. Europe pays Morocco to exploit scarce resources in occupied Western Sahara. In parallel it withholds money from Israel for West Bank developments – academic and commercial projects which in no way deplete resources, neither on earth nor in water. Far from it. Israel’s West Bank developments only create jobs and livelihoods, not least for Europe’s sacred Palestinians.
Moreover, projects in the West Bank are confined to areas under Israeli jurisdiction (from the Oslo Accords). Moroccan projects, in parallel, are limitless. Surrendering land to the contesting party is characteristic only to Israel. Morocco, ungenerous to a fault, holds onto every square meter of occupied land.
Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of international law and fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem, throws a double edged sword at Europe. On the one hand he lauds Europe for being right about Western Sahara. But that can only mean Europe being wrong about Israel. You can’t reward one country for occupation and punish another for that crime.
“The message Europe wants to send Israel through a tough diplomatic line is that the occupation of the West Bank, and the settlements, are the source of diplomatic (not legal) problems. But by not holding any other occupation to the same standard Europe sends another message: it is not the settlements that bother Brussels, but Israel itself.”
‘Made by Jews’
Warning labels are in vogue. ‘Cigarettes can seriously damage your health’. ‘Caution – hot liquid!’ Anti-Israel advocates also want to develop public fear and loathing. ‘Warning – Jewish-made products can kill!’
Would Europe’s pending product label develop fear and loathing? Would it punish legal suppliers and dupe innocent shoppers?
The following labels would cross both red lines.
‘Made in Occupied Palestinian Territories’
‘Made in the ‘West Bank’
‘Made beyond the Green Line’
You’ll not find a legal place among this lot. All wait upon a political settlement between two sides. A label conveying that green lines, west banks and OPT’s exist would not be helpful information; it would be a propaganda gimmick.
The labeling of goods that come from over Israel’s Green Line (a non-border 1949 armistice line) would: (a) Express not merely a political viewpoint, but a viewpoint in conflict with a history ineffaceably stamped in articles of international law. And (b) Invent a territory conjured up by UN lounge-abouts and their like.
A label telling consumers, or even implying, that Palestinian territory is occupied would be a lying label. The situation simply does not exist. No international law provides for Palestinian territory. The disputed lands, if they belong to any UN member, belong to Israel.
To be sure, Brussels and Washington, diplomats, politicos and civil activists will take offence, but it’s their bible after all. They throw international law, with the zeal of Jeremiah the prophet, in the face of the people of Israel. Well then, give Brussels and co some of their medicine back. Throw the bible at them. Let them open documents and tomes of international law and find pieces of land called ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’ or OPT. Then ask Brussels and co how it can be possible to violate make-believe territories earmarked for a make-believe collective.
By all means label products from Israel. But when they’re made beyond some arbitrary line, label them accordingly, honestly. Don’t take consumers for a ride. Keep to the spirit, and the letter, of consumer protection law. Give the shopper correct information, knowledge without the politicking.
‘Made in Judea and Samaria, by Jewish and Palestinian workers’
Now there’s a label to satisfy the most discerning shopper.