"Cotton’s bill aimed at settlements policy"

This week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced S. 2474, purportedly in order to ensure “fair” treatment by the United States of Israel and Israeli products. In truth, this bill has nothing to do with Israel or products made in Israel. It is about one thing only: reversing nearly five decades of unbroken U.S. policy opposing settlements built by Israel in territories it occupied in the 1967 war.  

Cotton’s bill is just the latest salvo in a broader campaign, taking place both in Washington and in state capitals, to exploit concerns about BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel), in order to legitimize settlements.

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(published 2/1/16 at LobeLog)

Attention is finally focusing on a bill pending in Congress that would make it U.S. policy to defend and support Israeli settlements. Known as the Customs Bill, this legislation regulates U.S. trade relations with foreign countries and includes the pro-settlement language in a provision that, ostensibly, is about defending the state of Israel against boycotts. It is part of a broader campaign, waged in Washington and in state capitals across the country, that seeks to undermine growing grassroots support for the boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and reverse Washington’s longstanding opposition to settlements in the occupied territories.

Back in July, Congress passed a similar provision as part of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill. The State Department responded with a statement rejecting the pro-settlements language, noting that “[e]very U.S. administration since 1967—Democrat and Republican alike—has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines.” The administration’s rejection provoked a harsh critique by one Washington Post blogger who writes on both legal issues and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The blogger, Eugene Kontorovich, testified on the BDS movement and ways to combat it before the Subcommittee on National Security of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last July. Now, with the Customs Bill in the spotlight and likely to soon come before President Obama, the arguments presented in his critique—which apply equally to the settlements-related provision in the Customs Bill—bear close scrutiny.

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The Campaign to Legislate Support for Settlements: Taking the Battle to the States

In 2014, opponents of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel began promoting legislation in various U.S. states denouncing the BDS movement.

In 2015, these efforts shifted/expanded to mirror efforts in the U.S. Congress to hijack concerns about BDS against Israel in order to pass legislation mandating that Israeli settlements be treated, in effect, as part of sovereign Israel.

At the outset of 2016, it is already clear that these efforts are continuing and building. Indeed, the clear trend at the state-level is moving away from anti-BDS resolutions in favor of binding legislation to – in effect – have states boycott, divest from, and sanction companies that engage in BDS against Israel, or that in any concrete way differentiate between Israel and the settlements.

This table  -- which will be updated regularly and which is based on data drawn from the websites of the various state legislatures -- is intended to help people understand and follow what is happening at the state level. 

(Do you know about legislation missing from the table? Please let me know - LFriedman@peacenow.org).

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Settlement Product Labeling Policies, U.S. vs. EU

The current U.S. and EU approaches are similar in that both bar producers and exporters of products made in settlements from indicating that the point of origin of the products is Israel. The approaches differ, however, in how far they go. U.S. labeling, in effect, differentiates between Israel on the one hand, and the West Bank/Gaza on the other. The EU differentiates not only between Israel and the West Bank, but within the West Bank between Israeli and Palestinian goods. This difference reflects, fundamentally, the different historical and economic circumstances in which the respective regulations were adopted.

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Peace Now Settlement Watch: Settlers Take Over Two Houses in Hebron

Today, (January 21st, 2016), settlers took over two houses in Hebron near the Cave of the Patriarchs. The settlers broke into the houses claiming to have purchased them from the Palestinian owners. It was reported that the owners deny having sold their houses and plan to take legal measures to force the settlers out and maintain ownership on their property.

Even if the houses were truly bought by the settlers, it is still in the hands of the Israeli government to decide whether to allow them to settle in the houses. The authority to establish a settlement in the West Bank rests exclusively in the hands of the Government of Israel, irrespective of any ownership claim. Every purchase of property in the West Bank by Israelis must be approved by the Minister of Defense, and such an approval have yet to be granted.

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This morning the Army Radio reported that Minister of Defense Ya'alon authorized the declaration of 1,545 dunams south of Jericho as state land. This land has been overtaken by settlers years ago for the purpose of agricultural cultivations. According to the Army Radio the declaration will be published in the coming weeks. This is the largest declaration since August 2014, when 4,000 dunams in the Etzion Bloc area were declared as state lands, resulting in an international storm of criticism. 

This approval comes after several declarations and confiscations in the last few weeks as two orders were signed on 23 December 2015, intended to take over new lands in the Qalqilya region and Qusra region southeast of Nablus (see details below).

Peace Now: Continued land confiscation by the Netanyahu government is a diplomatic catastrophe. The government's decision is another step on the way to destroy the possibility for a two state solution. Netanyahu is being dragged by Naftali Bennett and begins a silent annexation of area C.

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This Monday (December 28, 2015) data from the latest Settlement Watch report was published as the main headline of the Haaretz Newspaper. The report, which was based on a freedom of information petition, exposed that the Ministry of housing is working on plans for 55,000 housing units in the settlements, over 8000 of them in E1. These findings also received significant international press coverage, including in the New York Times and the Washington Post. For the full report click here.

Due to our exposure, yesterday (December 29, 2015) Prime Minister Netanyahu renounced the plans for E1, arguing that these were done by former Minister Uri Ariel at his own initiative without the required authorization. Netanyahu also stated that the plans "have no standing and are non-binding." For a report on Netanyahu's response to the data we uncovered see this article in Ynetnews.
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A Settlement Watch Report

A Peace Now report, based on information disclosed by the Ministry of Housing (MoH) following our freedom of information petition, reveals highly concerning facts on the government's actions and intentions with regards to the settlements and the two state solution. The report includes data on the planning of 55,548 housing units in West Bank Settlements, including in E1, as well as plans for two new settlements and the immediate construction of 3,078 units, 78% of which east of the separation barrier.
 
For the full report click here
Peace Now: The exposed MoH plans portray a worrying and dangerous picture for the state of Israel and for the two state solution. The execution of the plans exposed does not only stand in contrast to previous promises to the United States, but also seriously threaten the possibility of arriving at a two state solution. We call on Housing Minister Yoav Galant of Kulanu not to follow his predecessor's vision and to stop these plans immediately. Rather than continuing to plan thousands of units in the settlements, we call upon Minister Galant to invest in planning and construction in Israel proper.
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Peace Now learned today that last month the Head of the Government Property at the Civil Administration declared 30 dumans of the Palestinian villages of Jinsafut and Dir Istya as state lands. This is, as far as we know, the first declaration of state land since August 2014, when 4,000 dunams were declared as state land - a step which has led to heavy condemnations, including by the United States. While declarations of state land came to a halt after the Roadmap, since Netanyahu came to power declarations of state land have acceded 6,000 dumans. Just like previous declarations, this declaration is not technical but political, as it has to be approved by the Minister of Defense. 
 
The main purpose of this declaration is to retroactively legalize construction in the settlement of Karnei Shomron, and to allow it to expand (see photos). Palestinians landowners have already submitted an appeal to the Civil Administration against the declaration. Although the declaration is small in size and is adjacent to an already built area of a settlement, it is still a clear step taken by the Israeli Government which is taking over land and handing it over to the settlers.
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