On December 23, the UN Security Council reaffirmed that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation of international law.” Goods produced in these illegal areas have, however, long been sold across the United States and Europe, often without an accurate description of their place of origin. Over the recent holiday season, for example, Neiman Marcus sold nativity scenes marked “Hand Carved in Bethlehem, Israel,” according to the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
The inaccurate labeling of settlement goods violates long-standing, but largely ignored, U.S. policy. According to the 1995 U.S.-Israel free trade agreement, products from Israel or the occupied territories must be labeled according to their geographic origin. Improperly labeling West Bank goods as “Made in Israel” subjects them to an import duty in the United States. According to Forward, the legislation’s main purpose was to boost the Palestinian economy by allowing Palestinian goods to enter the U.S. market duty-free without being labeled as “Made in Israel.”
The guidelines were issued at a time when settlement exports to the United States were minimal. In the last two decades, however, exports of settlement goods have grown significantly, while enforcement of U.S. labeling regulations has been practically non-existent. U.S. Customs has received an increasing number of complaints about these regulatory violations. Despite issuing a reminder about the labeling requirements last January, Customs has thus far refused to take any action to enforce its rules.
President-Elect Donald Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel means that future enforcement of these regulations is unlikely. Friedman has raised millions of dollars for one of the most radical West Bank settlements and is a vocal supporter of Israel’s settlement project.
Even if it were to happen, however, enforcement of labeling guidelines would be insufficient to effectively designate the real origin of these goods. Unlike the new EU guidelines, U.S. regulations do not require designating products as made in settlements. As such, goods made by Palestinians, as well as products made in illegal settlements built on stolen land, would both be labeled “Product of the West Bank.”
Stricter labeling guidelines would also do little to challenge the pernicious reality of settlement business. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, companies based in settlements have “helped to build, finance, service, and market settlement communities.” In doing so, they have contributed to and benefited from the Israeli occupation.
The international sale of settlement goods allows Israel to profit from the occupation and dispossession of the Palestinian people. By continuing to trade in settlement goods, the international community perpetuates the human rights abuses from which these businesses profit. In light of the recent UN Security Council resolution, the international community should take practical steps to stop this dispossession from continuing and institute a boycott of these goods.