Has a European Boycott of Israeli Colonies in the Palestinian West Bank Begun?

By Juan Cole

First, the European Union decided last summer to exclude Israeli Occupation institutions from Israel-EU cooperation initiatives. That is, Israeli institutions are routinely invited to European scientific conferences and projects as though they were members of the EU, but those based in the Palestinian West Bank are no longer welcome. Nor will the EU give them grants. The move was dangerous for the Israeli Right wing’s project of colonizing and annexing the Palestinian West Bank (home to 2.5 million Palestinians), because many Israeli companies, universities and other institutions are developing West Bank wings, so that the boycott could blow back on the enterprises in Israel proper.

Israeli firms operating in the West Bank had been exporting $12 billion a year to Europe, a sum beginning to be in peril.

Then EU member nations began acting on it. The British government has issued an alert to UK companies saying, “EU citizens and businesses should also be aware of the potential reputational implications involved in economic and financial activities in settlements, as well as possible abuses of the rights of individuals.” I think the point of mentioning abuses of the rights of individuals (a daily practice of the Israeli occupying authorities) is that European companies might be exposing themselves to lawsuits or penalties in the terms of European Union law.

It continues,

“Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognized as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory . . . This may result in disputed titles to the land, water, mineral or other natural resources which might be the subject of purchase or investment.”

My guess is that this warning is coming under the influence of Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister. But it is also just reflecting a growing European consensus.

Then Vitens, the Dutch water supply company, cut off ties with its former partner, the Mekorot Israeli water company. Netherlands journalists have reported that Mekorot delivers water to Israeli colonies on Palestinian land in the West Bank, but denies water access to the villages of the Palestinian natives. Israel is in contravention of its 1995 Oslo 2 agreement with Palestine, which limits how much water Israel can extract from the West Bank. In fact, Tel Aviv gulps down far more Palestinian water than allowed.

Vitens is not the first European company abruptly to cease cooperation with Israeli firms doing business in the Occupied West Bank.

A few days before, Lilianne Ploumen, the Netherlands Minister of Trade, all of a sudden cancelled a consultation with Mekorot in Israel. Vitens said that the Dutch foreign ministry and other ‘concerned parties’ had advised the step.

This trickle of European boycotts of Israeli firms in the West Bank or firms with major West Bank branches could become a flood, with significant economic implications for the Israeli colonization project.

Likewise, the United Church of Canada has announced a boycott of goods made by Israeli firms on the West Bank.

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24 Responses

  1. Boycotts are good but the Palestinian state died on the day Israel built settlements in the West Bank. Either Israel absorbs the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as citizens or it forcibly removes them. I see no other alternative.

    • Or they could just bantustan it, grabbing all the water and forcing Palestinians into impoverished and isolated ‘independent’ enclaves where survival depends on servility and a job in the Israeli colonies.

      In other words, the present policy which they have followed since 1967 with the compliance of the West..

    • Hopefully, a boycott movement can help pressure Israel to shut down all West Bank settlements and move the people back to Israel Proper.

    • Here’s another option: Boycotts, sanctions and general dislike force young Israelis to leave for a better life, and Israel starts to “evaporate.” I see no other outcome.

      • Well, if Israel’s young (secular) population emigrate, then there’s a risk Israel’s demography will inevitably lead Israel to be a theocracy. It’ll become an impoverished wreck of a country, hated by the international community, and reliant on MAD to keep its neighbors from overrunning it.

    • RD Sultan: There is an alternative, in principle, namely, that the nations overcome pressure against H/R work on Palestine and apply real pressure on the State of israel, on its economy as a whole, with the goal of getting israel to remove all settlers, demolish th4 wall and all the settlements (buildings). Likelihood today? Small. But what is the likelihood, today, of anything other than continued apartheid?

    • Reports of the death of the two state solution are premature.

      They originated on the Zionist side of the equation and are suspect if only on grounds of conflict of interest. Note that our President and Secretary of State have not embraced this sort of defeatism. It is not American policy even though one would not know it from de facto American behavior since, say, 1967.

      We Americans must at minimum think of it in terms of our actual interests which are so profoundly divergent from those of the ideological Likud coalition and its fierce American poodle, AIPAC.

      What do we face if Israel proceeds to any of the theoretical alternatives to an independent Palestine so trenchantly outlined by John Mearsheimer a few years ago? Every one of them would be disastrous for us because we simply can not distance ourselves from Israel. We can not pressure her effectively. Our politics has become so corrupted by the Lobby and our fanatical right that we have lost control of the process by which our interests are protected in Middle Eastern policy.

      I read somewhere yesterday that it is now estimated that the out-of-pocket costs for the American people of “securing the Persian Gulf region” has risen to something like eight trillion. It’s obvious that but for the supine nature of our relationship with Israel it simply could not have been anything like that. It’s just flat-out impossible.

      The bantustans option, the apparent Israeli choice, means that in reality the grossly illegal Occupation will be permanent and that we Americans will not be able escape our historic association with it. It will enshrine the essential criminality of the resultant Jewish State. Will we have a choice but to continue to nanny the Israelis nevertheless? Our pusillanimous behavior since the Kennedy era argues that we will behave as if we do not. It’s humiliating, insufferable.

  2. We need to remember that the crimes that Israel commits in the West Bank originate in Tel Aviv. We should not only boycott Israeli settlers we should also boycott all of Israel.

    • Why don’t you boycott the United States too, since all of Israel’s crimes are aided and abetted by Washington?

      • Yes, a good suggestion. We Americans need to pressure our own representatives on this subject. I suspect that if Obama just started talking about Palestinian rights there would be a shock wave in Israel. He could compare the US Segregation era to Israel today. The road forward for Israel would be clear: make Israel an inclusive civil society.

        Obama, given who he is, would be the perfect person to deliver that message.

    • “We need to remember that the crimes that Israel commits in the West Bank originate in Tel Aviv. We should not only boycott Israeli settlers we should also boycott all of Israel.”

      Yes, of course. But our statesmen can’t conceive of running the personal risks of even discussing such a thing in public. How are they going to send their kids to Harvard if they have been driven from office by the Lobby, their careers are destroyed and they’ve been labeled with the social kiss of death: anti-Semite!?

  3. Unfortunately, it appears the motivation for the disassociation of Europeans from some Israelis comes only from laws and not moral revulsion. On the other hand, we should be grateful there are such laws in the absence of moral imperatives.

    • Bill, do you join me in believing that the Europeans are waiting for decisive American leadership and the political cover that will provide? It’s up to us to break the paralysis and they will happily help us. It will be irresistible. But we’re not likely to have a better shot at it than during this, Mr. Obama’s lame duck term. If he is going to follow-up on what he and Mr. Kerry have done so far, I hope he doesn’t wait until after the midterm elections. He is very cautious.

      • It looks as if the Europeans are making a move without waiting for leadership from a US Senate which gave Netanyahu 29 standing ovations. The US needs to be sidelined and defied in this if any progress on Palestine is to be made. Boycotts in Europe – of cultural; ties, trade and air movement – would force change.

        The US is the paralysis since it inserted itself in ‘peace making’ with ever President since Nixon. Obama is no different – his failure to stop settlements under pressure even while the US Vice President was visiting Israel marked him as a weakling

  4. well, it’s good to see something done about the theft of the West Bank. Hopefully the rest of Europe will also join the boycott. i don’t think America ever will join. this is such a hopeful sign.

  5. In the United States the Olympia Food Co-op was sued by dissident shareholders when its board of directors approved a boycott of Israeli products, however the suit was dismissed and the plaintiffs were ordered to pay $160,000.00 in penalties to current and former directors of the co-op board named in the suit. Attorney fees of $280,000 were claimed after the presiding judge asked the defendants to present a costs and fees itemization.

    The Israeli government was believed to be behind the prosecution of the lawsuit and the Israeli Consul General in the region had met with the plaintiffs in the suit opposing the boycott.

  6. Following the passing of Mandela, perhaps it would be interesting to look back on how the original apartheid state ended. There were boycotts. particularly sporting and cultural but I am not sure what real effect the absence of rugby teams had on white South Africans. The regime looked rock solid and the ANC were dismissed as incompetent terrorists in the early eighties.

    Yet fall the regime did. Perhaps the boycotts worked because they convinced South Africans they were universally regarded as greedy racists who were depriving their fellow citizens of economic and democratic rights.

    There must have been common decency in South Africans to give up economic privilege and allow all citizens to share equally. This decency seems to be lacking in Israel. Perhaps international revulsion might start Israelis on a PW Botha journey.

    • The sporting boycotts had considerable clout, and of course raised the profile of the anti-apartheid movement in Britain too – after all it was our players who were refusing to tour in South Africa. Economic sanctions were effective, to the point where SA’s neighbours had superior military equipment, as SA’s became obsolete.
      I suspect the fierceness with which Israel tries to fight off increasing sanctions and boycotts is because they know how effective they are.

      • Not just Britain but the whole British Commonwealth took part in the sporting boycott of S.A. and also the boycott of South African oranges. I’d hope Brits today are boycotting Jaffas.

  7. It is about time some entity or nation, that is able to resist any intimidation from lobbies or leagues, stand up and do something to help these poor people.
    The UN has predicted the Palestinian territories will be unlivable by 2020, and it seems the easy way out for the US, EU and other nations, to ignore warnings and just pretend it is not happening.
    The US is NOT going to initiate any punitive measures against the occupier for it’s endless crimes against humanity, in fact it will continue to support, aid and arm, this nation that keeps getting away with breaking international laws, and has been a burden for the US for all these years. If the EU does not step in at this time, the Palestinian people who are already losing their lands, farms, water, and dignity, will vanish from the territories they have claim to, by acts of terror, assassination, intimidation, and the cutting of social services, by those who were once homeless, but now has the chutzpah to use US aid to extract all they can from their neighbors.

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