Setting the Record Straight (again) on U.S. Labeling Policy [UPDATED*]

Yesterday, Israeli media reported on a blockbuster report alleging that the Obama Administration is lying when it says U.S. policy regarding the labeling of products from West Bank settlements hasn't changed since 1995, and alleging that the policy reiterated last month in a statement issued by the U.S. Customs Service (CBP), in fact, represents a change in U.S. policy.

These allegations rest on a “smoking gun,” unearthed by the intrepid researchers at a right-wing Israeli non-governmental organization called the Legal Forum for Israel, in the form of a 1995 document issued by CBP.  The Legal Forum for Israel alleges that the document proves that U.S. labeling policy since 1995, according to which exports from the West Bank cannot be labeled as made in Israel, applied only to those areas of the West Bank under Palestinian self-rule in 1995. The NGO insists that the “reminder” of the policy issued by CBP in January 2016, which stated that labeling rules apply to the entire West Bank, thus clearly represents a (stealth) shift in U.S. policy.

Is this document, in fact, a smoking gun? Not in the slightest.

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News from Peace Now's (Israel) Settlement Watch:

Report2015SettlementsOver the weekend, Israel’s Peace Now movement published its annual report on West Bank settlement planning and construction in the past year. Following is the executive summary of Peace Now’s report, followed by a link to the full report, as well as links to several news articles about the report.

2015 In the Settlements: No Freeze At All
Settlement Watch Annual Construction Report
Peace Now's annual construction report reveals that in 2015 construction continued throughout the West Bank settlements, and especially in isolated settlements. These finding refute the argument that a "silent freeze" is currently in place. While earlier this year Netanyahu argued in English that he is the Prime Minister who has built the least in the settlements, in Hebrew he proudly demonstrated to Likud members the increase in settlement construction during his time in office. It is clear that in 2015 as well, Netanyahu's statements in Hebrew are more representative of the reality on the ground than his statements in English.
 
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"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

News from Peace Now's (Israel) Settlement Watch:

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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News from Peace Now's (Israel) Settlement Watch:

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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News from Peace Now's (Israel) Settlement Watch:

Two important settlement developments in this update:

1. Appointed Attorney General proposes to confiscate private Palestinian lands for settlements

2. A new settlement established south of Bethlehem

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News from Peace Now's (Israel) Settlement Watch:

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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