EU labelling tackles settlement expansion

Friday 20/11/2015
Aerial view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel.

London - The European Union pub­lished new guidelines on November 11th for labelling products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territo­ries, opening the debate once more over Israel’s illegal settlement pro­gramme.
Drawn up over three years by the European Commission, the guide­lines mean Israeli producers must explicitly label farm goods and other products that come from set­tlements built on land occupied by Israel if they are sold in the Euro­pean Union.
Palestinians view the illegal Jew­ish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a major stumbling block to reaching a two-state solution, particularly as East Jerusalem would serve as the capi­tal of a future Palestinian state.
Israel continues to dismiss inter­national criticism of its expansion­ist building, saying the settlements would be resolved in peace talks. Virtually every country in the in­ternational community, including the United States, views the settle­ments — seized in the 1967 war — as illegal. Israeli settlements range from those authorised by Tel Aviv to wildcat homesteads.
The settlement issue has scup­pered previous peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, with successive Palestinian delegations demanding the Israelis stop settle­ment expansion during any nego­tiations.
More than 570,000 Israelis reside in settlements on occupied Pales­tinian territory, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now. Approximately 2.2 mil­lion Palestinians live in the West Bank and another 300,000 are in East Jerusalem.
In 1972, there were only 10,000 Israelis in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Twenty years later, ahead of the Oslo Ac­cords, that figure stood at 231,200 with close to an even split between the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
By 2000, during the second inti­fada, there were more than 365,000 Israelis living in the occupied terri­tories, with more living in the West Bank — 198,000 — than in East Je­rusalem.
This was after Israel established a number of major settlements in the West Bank during the 1980s and 1990s, including Ma’ale Adumim in 1975 and Beitar Illit in 1985. Ma’ale Adumim now has a population of more than 40,000 and Beitar Illit’s is close to 45,000.
Modi’in Illit, one of the most populous Israel settlements in the West Bank with about 60,000 peo­ple, was built in 1994 and has had an annual population growth of around 10%.
Israel has a fairly steady popu­lation growth of about 1% but the population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has been growing four times faster, Bloomberg reported in 2014.
This is due to many Israelis choosing to live in the occupied territories, whether for economic or ideological reasons. Many Jews have settled in the area ostensibly for religious reasons. Others do so for a more practical reason: Gov­ernment subsidies, including fa­vourable mortgages and discounts on purchases of property, amount to about $800 per settler per year.
East Jerusalem has seen an un­precedented spike in the number of Israelis living there, with dire polit­ical repercussions. Just 1,500 Israe­lis lived in East Jerusalem in 1972 but that figure is now approaching 200,000.
“Since the annexation of East Je­rusalem in 1967, Israeli authorities have promoted the twofold goal of expanding the city’s Jewish popu­lation and reducing its Palestin­ian population,” the independent Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem said.
The location of the capital of a future Palestinian state in East Je­rusalem is a major demand for the Palestinians and one that no Pal­estinian negotiating delegation is likely to surrender.
“Al-Quds [the Arabic name for Jerusalem] and everything that was conquered in the 1967 war is part of the Palestinian state,” Pal­estinian President Mahmoud Ab­bas affirmed in January 2014 from Ramallah.
His comment came in the midst of US efforts to draw up a frame­work peace agreement. Those ef­forts ended with failure after the Palestinians rejected a proposal that did not guarantee East Jerusa­lem as the capital for a future Pales­tinian state.