US lawmakers condemn EU labeling of settlement products

Bipartisan resolution accuses Europe of encouraging boycott of Israel, setting back prospects for peace

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Palestinian workers on November 11, 2015, at a date packaging factory in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. This produce will be labeled if exported to the EU as 'Product of the West Bank (Israeli settlement' (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Palestinian workers on November 11, 2015, at a date packaging factory in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. This produce will be labeled if exported to the EU as 'Product of the West Bank (Israeli settlement' (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of Congress members introduced a resolution Thursday expressing staunch opposition to guidelines issued recently by the European Union mandating the labeling of products manufactured in Israeli West Bank settlements and in the Golan Heights.

Democratic representatives Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, and Republicans Peter Roskam and Ed Royce – all legislators with strong pro-Israel records – co-authored the resolution. In a statement released after the resolution was submitted, the four accused the EU of advancing a general boycott of Israel.

The guidelines, they said, “only encourage and prompt consumers to boycott all Israeli goods.”

“This is counterproductive to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, harmful to U.S. national security interests, and contributes to the deeply misguided anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement,” the four complained. “Boycotts chip away at economic integration, which negatively affects Israelis and Palestinians alike. The establishment of the European Economic Community was predicated on the notion that peace and security are achieved through trade, economic cooperation, and job creation – not boycotts and isolation. The same is true for Israelis and Palestinians.”

The resolution itself expresses alarm that “politically motivated acts of boycott, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel represent a concerted effort to extract concessions from Israel outside of direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, and undermines efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution,” a position that the sponsors wrote was itself in contravention of longstanding US policy.

“The United States has long opposed efforts to impose solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outside of direct negotiations between the two parties,” they noted, adding that “the United States has historically been at the forefront of combating economic pressure against Israel and has enacted legislation to counter both the Arab League Boycott of Israel and the BDS movement.”

The resolution also cited recent legislation – at both the federal and state levels — that discourage support for BDS actions, and even call for US negotiators to discourage potential trading partners from engaging in such actions.

It noted a law passed earlier this year as part of a trade negotiating package states that the United States should discourage potential trading partners from adopting policies to limit trade or investment relations with Israel when negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with European countries.

At the same time, multiple state legislatures – including Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, South Carolina and New York — have passed laws and resolutions rejecting BDS practices, and in some cases, divesting state funds from any body that engages in BDS.

The text of the resolution itself calls upon all of the European governmental bodies “to oppose any boycott, divestment, or sanctions initiatives aimed at singling out Israel, to refrain from actions counterproductive to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and to work on bringing the parties back to the negotiating table.” It also encourages EU states “to exert prudence in the implementation of the European Union labeling guidelines.”

The legislators noted that the European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner, arguing that as such, “the European Union should play a constructive role to help bring the parties back to the negotiating table and resolve their differences, not try to extract one-sided concessions and feed into politically-motivated acts to boycott Israel.”

The resolution is included as part of the omnibus funding package, and is set to go through its first rounds of voting on Friday. The package is considered must-pass legislation in order to stave off the risk of a government shutdown – and has been hammered out in a series of bipartisan trade-offs.

If the resolution stays in the package, its chances of passing are considered good, since Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the Obama administration both have indicated that they hope to see the omnibus spending bill’s speedy passage.

Left-wing groups, such as Americans for Peace Now, have complained that throughout the past year, there has been an increase in Congressional moves that they say violate longstanding US policy differentiating between the legal status of lands claimed by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and lands within Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries.

This resolution’s sponsors noted in their statement that when it came to boycott, divestment or sanctions actions, they did not in fact make any differentiation. “This resolution expresses our opposition to the EU labeling decision and all other boycott, divestment, and sanctions efforts directed against Israel or Israeli-controlled territory,” the four noted.

At the same time, the text of the resolution “reaffirms” Congress’s “strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states, a democratic, Jewish State of Israel and a viable, democratic, Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.”

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