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Netherlands becomes latest country to act against trade with illegal Israeli settlements

The Dutch government has announced that it will introduce new guidance calling on retailers to label fresh produce from illegal Israeli settlements in a way that distinguishes it from products originating inside Israel. “We do not want to contribute to the economy of the illegal settlements,” said foreign minister Frans Timmermans in a statement to parliament on Wednesday.

The Netherlands is a key destination for Israeli fresh produce, with many of the main Israeli agricultural export companies operating subsidiaries and distribution centers in the country. The guidance will be voluntary and no action will be taken against retailers that do not follow it.

Palestinians welcome targeting of financial transactions with the settlements

The Dutch move follows similar steps by the governments of the UK, Denmark and South Africa and a letter sent by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on February 22 to all EU foreign ministers calling on EU member states to implement labeling of settlement produce in accordance with a May 2012 decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council.

Zaid Shuaibi, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, a wide coalition of the largest Palestinian mass organisations, trade unions and networks, said:

“It is truly heartening to see that European governments are starting to match their condemnation of Israel’s continued settlement expansion and the resulting human rights abuses with action targeting the financial transactions that allow illegal Israeli settlements to flourish. The level of coordination between European governments on this issue is unprecedented and is a result of determined and effective campaigning by European grassroots networks, trade unions and NGOs.”

Settlement trade is illegal

Shuaibi continues: “The construction of settlements constitutes a war crime and European governments are breaking their own obligations under international law by allowing settlement trade to continue. While a welcome first step, non-binding labeling guidance does little to practically end the exports of settlement produce to European markets on which many illegal settlements depend. European governments should implement effective legislation banning all trade that sustains settlements.”

A recent report released by the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem recommended that the EU “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions…from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services”.

Dawood Hammoudeh, Executive Manager of the Palestinian Farmers Union, one of 16 Palestinian agricultural and civil society organisations that recently issued an appeal for governments and retailers to take action against companies exporting from settlements, said:

“As long as trade with Israeli settlement exporters such as Mehadrin and Hadiklaim is permitted, Palestinian farmers will continue to be forced from their land to make way for crops grown by illegal Israeli settlements for export to European supermarkets.”

“Trade with exporters operating in settlements encourages and rewards the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, the exploitation of Palestinian workers, child labour and the theft of Palestinian water resources, all in violation of international law.”

A briefing paper released by Palestinian farmers’ organisations in February details how at least one UK supermarket continues to sell settlement produce marked ‘Made in Israel’ in contravention of official government guidance because it is being misled by its Israeli suppliers. All of the major Israeli export companies routinely mislead retailers and governments about the origin of their produce. Many UK retailers continue to sell settlement produce despite the labeling regulations.

“Accurate labeling of produce from settlements becomes almost impossible in the context of outright deception by Israeli suppliers, especially when it is Israeli companies themselves managing the import of produce into the Netherlands and other European countries. The only way to ensure produce from illegal Israeli settlements isn’t sold as ‘Made in Israel’ is to end trade with any company sourcing products from or otherwise operating in illegal settlements,” Hammoudeh added.

In an exemplary move, the Co-Operative supermarket in the UK last year announced that it would no longer trade with any company exporting from settlements following a widely supported campaign by its members. Campaigns are underway to pressure other European supermarkets to follow suit.

A recent legal analysis published by Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq argued that European governments are violating their own obligations under international law not to recognise as legal Israeli violations of international law.

A UN fact finding mission on illegal Israeli settlements recently called on states to meet their legal obligations to take action to end settlement expansion and urged businesses to terminate their activities with settlements.

Last month demonstrations were held in Gaza and in more than 40 cities across Europe to demand governments and retailers take action to end trade that supports the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.

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