Monday

27th May 2019

US to vote on pro-Israeli provisions in EU free trade

  • Bills would 'constitute a massive reversal of US policy' on settlements (Photo: prameya)

The US Senate will on Tuesday (12 May) begin voting on legislation which could tie EU-US free trade to prevention of EU action on Israeli settlements.

One of the two items, the Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act, instructs the US Trade Representative, to “utilise free trade negotiations to discourage potential trade partners from participating in or promoting politically motivated acts of BDS [boycotts, divestment, and sanctions] against Israel”.

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The second one, the US-Israel Trade Enhancement Act, obliges the US to “discourage politically motivated actions by foreign countries" and "international organisations ... that are intended to penalise or limit commercial relations with Israel”.

The legislation was introduced by Republican and Democratic party senators: Peter Roskam; Juan Vargas; Rob Portman; and Ben Cardin.

It’s being tied to Congressional approval of the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which allows the White House to fast-track passage of the EU-US free trade treaty, also known as TTIP.

A source in Washington, who asked not to be named, told EUobserver, the initiatives were set in motion “following reports that European countries are considering additional labelling of West Bank settlement products”.

He added that “passage of these provisions as part of the larger trade bill would legislate US protection for illegal Israeli settlements and constitute a massive reversal of US policy” on countering settlement expansion.

Israel, last week, announced plans to build 900 new homes in the Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem, on the Palestinian side of the 1967 border.

The move is part of a surge in settlement expansion under Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, which, the EU said on 8 May, “not only threatens the viability of the two-state solution but also seriously calls into question its [Israel's] commitment to a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians”.

The EU added that it’s “committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation … applicable to settlements”.

The statement refers to European Commission work on an EU code on labelling settlement products in European shops in order to help consumers boycott them if they want to.

For her part, Maja Kocjiancic, a spokeswoman for the EU foreign service, told EUobserver “there is no boycott, but the EU is bound to implement its legislation, including regarding rules of origin and labelling”.

Israel sees things differently, however.

“It’s clear that BDS organisations draw support from measures such as labelling and use them to validate BDS arguments”, an Israeli source told this website.

Gaza

The EU’s mounting frustration with Israel is also linked to violence in Gaza.

Israel, in Operation Protective Edge, an air and ground assault on the strip last summer, killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, injured 10,000, and forced half a million people to flee their homes.

Sixty six Israeli soldiers and five civilians were also killed.

EU foreign ministers at the time said Israel “has the right to protect its population” from Gaza rocket fire so long as it acts “proportionately”.

But testimony from Israeli soldiers, published earlier this month by the Jerusalem-based NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS), indicates it didn’t.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) reservists and regulars said they were allowed to kill civilians in the conflict zone even if they posed no threat.

One first sergeant told the NGO: “The idea was, if you spot something - shoot … Whether it posed a threat or not wasn’t a question, and that makes sense to me. If you shoot someone in Gaza it’s cool, no big deal”.

Indiscriminate shelling by Israeli tanks and artillery also contributed to the high number of civilian dead.

A first sergeant in the armoured corps described one attack on the neighbourhood of al-Bureij: “All the tanks were standing in a row, and I personally asked my commander: ‘Where are we firing at?’ He told me: ‘Pick wherever you feel like it’.”

Another tank corps sergeant said that, three weeks into the ground incursion, gunners got bored and started trying to hit cyclists for fun.

“Suddenly I saw a cyclist, just happily pedaling along. I said OK, that guy I’m taking down. I calibrated the range, and didn’t hit – it hit a bit ahead of him and then suddenly he starts pedaling like crazy, because he was being shot at, and the whole tank crew is cracking up, ‘Wow, look how fast he is’.”

So what?

For the Israeli authorities the BtS revelations mean little.

The IDF said the NGO’s report doesn’t constitute legal evidence because the soldiers’ statements are anonymous.

An EU diplomatic source noted that the Gaza testimony “won’t cause a crisis” in EU-Israel relations.

“You might see a reference to it in a paragraph in the next European Neighbourhood Policy report on Israel”, he said.

But he added that “EU states will be watching to make sure Israel and the UN conduct a proper investigation” into other complaints related to the Gaza war.

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