Call to ban imports from settlements is misplaced

Thu, Oct 11, 2012, 01:00

OPINION:An NGO’s request for an embargo on goods from Jews in the West Bank is mere gesture politics, writes BOAZ MODAI

AS AN Israeli, coming from a country with a very strong tradition and ethos of aid to less-developed countries, I have great admiration and respect for the ideals and practical work of NGOs around the world.

Irish NGOs have an especially good reputation internationally. Trócaire is particularly distinguished, working in 28 countries across troubled regions of the world like Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

However, I find highly objectionable the actions of Trócaire in recent days – calling for an EU ban on goods from Jewish communities in the West Bank – and the arguments set forth in the opinion piece by Trócaire’s executive director Justin Kilcullen (“Impose ban on imports from Israeli settlements”, October 4th).

As I’m sure Mr Kilcullen is well aware, there are many cases around the world of disputed territory, unresolved conflict etc, yet Trócaire sees fit to single out Israel, and Israel alone, in a call for sanctions. As Trócaire is an NGO, I believe it is improper for it to involve itself in a partisan international agenda against Israel – the only democracy in the Middle East and the only country in that troubled region where NGOs are free to work and say what they like.

I also doubt if all donors to Trócaire share the same one-sided political view expressed by Mr Kilcullen – I assume they do not.

Mr Kilcullen’s opinion piece is full of inaccuracies and bereft of proper context. It is not correct that over “500,000” Israelis live in Judaea and Samaria. Their number is about 350,000. He states that 42 per cent of West Bank land is allocated to Jewish “settlements”. In fact, Jewish towns and villages cover less than 2 per cent of this territory.

True, some other space is taken up by security zones, but people like Mr Kilcullen never like to say why such security is necessary. It is because Jews in Judaea and Samaria live in daily fear of assault, or worse, at the hands of Palestinian extremists.

By contrast, the fifth of Israel’s population who are Muslims are subject to no such fears and insecurities within Israel. In the West Bank, Jewish towns and villages exist only in Area C, a largely barren area that incorporates a mere 4 per cent of the Palestinian population.

In other words, 96 per cent of the Palestinian population live in parts of Judaea and Samaria where there are no Jews living at all. Furthermore, there have been no new settlements since 1998; the only construction for Jews in this area since then is within the already existing ones.

People also need to take into account the damaging consequences of a ban on goods from Jewish communities in the West Bank. Currently, 15,000 Arab Palestinians are employed in these settlements (the number was much higher in the 1990s, before the tragic second Intifada, but fortunately the number has been increasing again in recent years because of the relative calm and growing prosperity in the West Bank).

The average wage earned by Arab Palestinians in agricultural and industrial centres is double the average West Bank Palestinian income. A ban on goods would have a negligible impact on the Israeli economy (Jewish settlers could easily move to Israel proper and re-invest there). But it would have a devastating impact on the Palestinian economy, such as higher unemployment and diminished purchasing power.

The last thing the West Bank needs is damage to its cohesion and stability. This is a classic example of pernicious “gesture politics” that would only lead to suffering for people on the ground; maybe this explains why even the Palestinian Authority does not support this idea of a boycott.

The underlying message in Justin Kilcullen’s argument is that the Jewish presence in the West Bank is the main obstacle to a final, comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is simply not true. There were no Jewish communities in the West Bank before 1967, yet that did not stop the wider Arab world constantly trying to destroy Israel, or the terrorism of Palestinians themselves (the PLO was founded in 1964, a time when there wasn’t a Jew anywhere in Judaea and Samaria).

Israel has repeatedly traded land for peace: in 1979, after peace was signed with Egypt, Israel evacuated all its citizens who lived in the Sinai; in 2005, as a unilateral peace offering to Palestinians, it evacuated its citizens from Gaza – only to be met with more ferocious terrorism and rocket attacks from Gaza. The Israeli government has stated its willingness to negotiate more land swaps with the Palestinians if only they would agree to come to the negotiating table. But they do not.

Lastly, I condemn a disturbing, growing problem in recent years, namely the politicisation of charity, whereby NGOs such as Trócaire have become manipulated, within and without, by those with a radical left agenda which demonises Israel as the cause of the problems in the Middle East. As we have all seen over the past two years of the Arab Spring, with tens of thousands of Arabs slaughtered by other Arabs, this is clearly an absurdity.

Boaz Modai is ambassador of Israel

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