New bill would align U.S. policy with the pro-settlement Israeli right

February 5, 2016–A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate threatens to reverse longstanding US policy towards U.S. settlements, undermining possibilities for peace in the region.

Following allegations of mis-labeling settlement products produced in occupied Palestinian territory as coming from Israel, U.S. Customs re-issued a guidance on Jan. 23, 2016 stating that, according to a 1995 law, “It is not acceptable to mark [goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza Strip] with the words ‘Israel,’ ‘Made in Israel,’ ‘Occupied Territories-Israel,’ or any variation thereof.” In response, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton introduced a bill co-sponsored by Senators Rubio, Cruz and Gardner to undo this existing regulation and to allow products produced in Israeli settlements to be labeled as “Made in Israel.”

Rabbi Joseph Berman, Jewish Voice for Peace Government Affairs Liaison:

“We look forward to the enforcement of existing US Customs regulations. This is a good first step, but simply labeling goods produced in the West Bank is not enough. U.S. policy should be moving in the direction of applying real political and economic pressure on Israel to halt settlement expansion and end its nearly 50 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This bill, which is part of a trend of legislation intended to extend U.S. protection to Israeli settlements, flies in the face of longstanding U.S. policy which views the settlements as illegal. Senator Cotton’s bill threatens to reverse this policy, and to align the U.S. government with the most extreme elements of the current Israeli government that seek the most amount of land with the fewest Palestinians.”

A groundbreaking report released last month by Human Rights Watch asserts that  “Businesses should stop operating in, financing, servicing, or trading with Israeli settlements in order to comply with their human rights responsibilities.” The report, entitled “Occupation Inc: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights,” explains how businesses that operate in the occupied West Bank are complicit with Israel’s violations of international law and human rights abuses.

The Human Rights Watch report also makes clear that third-party states have a duty “not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories.”  This includes “requiring exporters to accurately label goods produced in settlements as such.”

Enforcing US customs guidelines that bar products made in illegal Israeli settlements from being labeled “made in Israel” is a welcome first step towards upholding US and international law, but it is not enough. Economic pressure is a necessary next step towards halting settlement expansion and ending the occupation.

Recommended Readings:
The Huffington Post: Tom Cotton’s New Law Would Allow A Product Made In Gaza To Be Labeled ‘Made in Israel’ (February 1, 2016)
The Hill: Cotton’s bill aimed at settlements policy (February 4, 2016)
The Forward: U.S. Labeling Rules Already Bar ‘Made in Israel’ Tag for West Bank (January 28, 2016)



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