EU labelling tackles settlement expansion
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.