an EU ban on Israeli settlement goods
Minister of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Eamon Gilmore, told Dáil Éireann on 22 May 2012  that, if “matters continued to worsen” in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in the autumn Ireland may propose “the exclusion from the EU of settlement products and of individual settlers engaged in violence” at an EU Foreign Affairs Council.
The Minister was speaking in the wake of a meeting of the Council on 14 May 2012, which adopted a set of conclusions on what they term the Middle East Peace Process . These conclusions constitute an update to the common foreign policy of the EU on Israel/Palestine.
Over the past few years, Council conclusions on this issue have
become increasingly critical of
Their central message is that Israeli actions on the ground
in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, “threaten to make a two-state
solution impossible” and that
Gilmore reports to Dáil Éireann
Reporting to Dáil Éireann on 22 May 2012 on the Foreign Affairs Council meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Eamon Gilmore, said:
“There is increasing concern in the
EU, which I have highlighted, that the relentless progress of Israeli policies
“At the urging of Ireland and other member states, the Foreign Affairs Council last Monday focused its discussion not on the overall peace process but on these specific viability issues, notably issues around Israeli settlement expansion and the pressure on Palestinians in East Jerusalem and area C, which is that part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the West Bank still fully under Israeli military control and occupation.
“The Council conclusions adopted
last week send out a strong and united EU message on these critical and urgent
Italy and the Netherlands did the heavy lifting for Israel inside the EU bodies
drafting the conclusions, other countries that frequently go to bat for Israel
in EU forums, such as the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, were less active this
time. The officials said this was due to the determination shown by the
British, French and especially the Germans in getting the wording passed. The officials said the document represented
the prevalent position of
Gilmore proposes re-examination in autumn
Eamon Gilmore told the Dáil that he had already suggested to his fellow foreign ministers that this matter be re-examined in the autumn and further action be taken if matters continued to worsen:
“I suggested at the Council that in view of the urgency of these issues on the ground, Ministers should look at them again in the autumn to see if the situation had improved or was continuing to worsen. I suggested that if matters continued to worsen and our existing actions had not improved them, we would clearly need to consider stronger actions. The exclusion from the EU of settlement products and of individual settlers engaged in violence, should, in that case, be considered.
“I have previously stated that
This proposal by Eamon Gilmore didn’t come out of the blue – he had already expressed support for such a ban, for example, in answering a question in Dáil Éireann on 25 October 2011, when he said:
“The Government’s firm views on the establishment and continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are clear and well known. I would support any move at EU level to exclude settlement products from entry to the EU.” 
However, he qualified his answer then (and on other occasions) by saying that “it is clear that such a proposal would not at this point have any prospect of commanding sufficiently wide support” in the EU. The fact that he is talking about raising the issue at EU level in the autumn must mean that the chances of it commanding sufficiently wide support amongst EU states have increased.
Settlement goods represent a very
small proportion of the Israeli goods imported into the EU, so a ban on their
entry into the EU market would do very little economic damage to
Violation of 4th Geneva Convention
It might be
said that the Minister is being contradictory when he states that “we do not
support bans or boycotts on
The settlements are in what the
whole world, apart from Israel, regards as Occupied Palestinian Territories,
that is, outside the internationally recognised territory of Israel on the
territory meant for a Palestinian state – and Israel’s relentless expansion of
these settlements on this territory continuously reduces the possibility of a
Palestinian state ever coming into being.
It therefore makes sense to seek to deter
also a technical legal argument for such a ban.
The whole world, apart from
Under Article 146 of the Convention, signatories to the Convention, which include every EU state, are required to “take measures necessary for the suppression of all acts contrary to the provisions” of the Convention. The importation of settlement goods clearly bolsters settlements economically, which is a positive encouragement to settlement building and therefore flies in the face of the duty of parties to the Convention under Article 146 to discourage acts contrary to the provisions of the Convention.
So, since settlement building began in the late 1960s, there always has been a solid justification in international law for refusing to trade in settlement goods.
8.2(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute  of
the International Criminal Court defines “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power
of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” to be a
war crime. So, trading in settlement
goods is a positive encouragement to
Reports from EU heads of mission
In recent years, EU foreign policy conclusions on Israel/Palestine
have been informed by a series of reports by the EU states’ heads of mission to
In other words, the production of these reports is part of a systematic approach to EU foreign policy formation on Israel/Palestine. They are internal EU documents, not meant for publication, but they have come into the public domain.
These reports contain little or no new information – they consist mostly of information already published by various UN bodies and NGOs. However, the impact of this information is greatly enhanced because it has been published by an EU body and is informing EU policy.
Ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem
A report by the heads of mission in December 2011 sets out
in forensic detail
“4. Over the past few years,
Lest there be any doubt that
“10. The demographic factor is a
central element in Israeli policy. In 1967,
Ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Area C
The Palestinian presence in Area C is also being
systematically reduced by
Under the Oslo Agreement, the West Bank, excluding
Areas A (18% of the land area) and B (20% of the land area) are a series of islands within Area C. Area A is under Palestinian civil and security control and Area B is under Palestinian civil and shared Israeli-Palestinian security control.
A report by the EU heads of mission to
“In 1972 the number of Israeli
settlers in Area C was 1,200, in 1993 110,000 and in 2010 310,000 (excluding
“The Palestinian presence in Area C
has continuously been undermined through different administrative measures,
planning regulations and other means adopted by
“The increasing integration of Area
Palestinians are being forced to leave Area C because it is virtually impossible for them to get building permits and building without a permit risks demolition by the Israeli army. In the first half of 2011, 342 Palestinian-owned structures, including 125 residential structures, were demolished by the Israeli authorities and 656 people, including 351 children, lost their homes. Over 3,000 demolition orders are outstanding, including 18 targeting schools.
In addition to the restrictive planning, which makes it next to impossible for Palestinians to build in Area C, many Palestinians there are under constant threat of harassment and physical attacks by armed Israeli settlers, who routinely attack Palestinian men, women and children, burn crops and destroy olive trees. The Israeli army, which is supposed to be responsible for the protection of civilians living under its control, does little to stop this violence and often appears to side with the Israeli settlers.
The overall impact of
Foreign Affairs Council conclusions
The meat of the Council’s conclusions  is in Paragraphs 5-7.
Paragraph 5 describes
“5. The viability of a two-state-solution must be maintained. The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible:
- the marked acceleration of settlement construction following the end of the 2010 moratorium, the recent decision of the government of Israel regarding the status of some settlements outposts as well as the proposal to relocate settlers from Migron within the occupied Palestinian territory, while all outposts erected since March 2001 should be dismantled, according to the Roadmap.
- in East-Jerusalem the ongoing evictions and house demolitions, changes to the residency status of Palestinians, the expansion of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa, and the prevention of peaceful Palestinian cultural, economic, social or political activities.
- the worsening living conditions of the Palestinian population in Area C and serious limitations for the PA to promote the economic development of Palestinian communities in Area C, as well as plans of forced transfer of the Bedouin communities, in particular from the wider E1 area [between East Jerusalem and the Ma'ale Adumim settlement].”
Paragraph 6 sets out EU policy and
makes demands on
“6. Concerning these developments, the EU reiterates its positions and determination to contribute to maintaining the viability of the two-state-solution in accordance with international law and its positions, including the conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in December 2009, December 2010 and May 2011:
- Settlements remain illegal under
international law, irrespective of recent decisions by the government of
- The EU reiterates that a way must
be found through negotiations to resolve the status of
- Social and economic developments
in Area C are of critical importance for the viability of a future Palestinian
state, as Area C is its main land reserve. The EU calls upon Israel to meet its
obligations regarding the living conditions of the Palestinian population in
Area C, including by accelerated approval of Palestinian master plans, halting
forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing and
infrastructure, simplifying administrative procedures to obtain building
permits, ensuring access to water and addressing humanitarian needs. The EU
Paragraph 7 deals with violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in Area C:
“7. The EU expresses deep concern
regarding settler extremism and incitement by settlers in the
In the Dáil on 22 May 2012, Eamon Gilmore described these conclusions as a “strong and significant statement” which “addresses the conditions on the ground”. He continued:
“We all want to see meaningful talks
“I saw the reality
for myself when I visited area C when I was in the region in January. In
effect, as these settlements continue, they are making it physically impossible
for a two-state solution to materialise. We are seeing a settlement right
around the eastern part of
“The statement by the EU Foreign Affairs Council has nailed that matter by clearly identifying it. That is why, at the Council meeting, I argued that we need to return to this topic in the autumn to see what has happened in the meantime and then examine what further steps may be appropriate.” 
A warning to
The Foreign Affairs Council statement of 14 May 2012 was unprecedented – never before has the Council described with such bluntness Israel’s oppression of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and demanded that Israel cease these actions and take steps to remedy the situation.
In an editorial on 18 May 2012, the Irish Times described
the statement as “a warning to
“The tone and detail of the
statement reflect exasperation with both the Israeli government’s
procrastination and the