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July 5, 2015

New US Trade Bill Says, “Settlements = Israel”

On Monday US President Barak Obama signed into law Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation that includes constraints designed to protect Israel in future negotiations with the European Union (EU). Critically, this TPA legislation includes language (“Israel or in territories controlled by Israel”) that will make the protection of Israeli settlements part of those negotiations.

Some Middle East analysts such as Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now have argued that measures to introduce such language into not only the TPA legislation, but multiple other bills moving through Congress, seeks “to codify in U.S. law the view that there is no distinction between Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories (referred to euphemistically in these bills as "Israeli-controlled territories" or "territories controlled by Israel").” According to Friedman, such bills “will not protect Israel from pressure from Europe over settlements. They will, instead, further discredit U.S. leadership and policy in the Middle East arena - an arena in which even Israel's closest allies in Europe have run out of patience with Israeli governments that talk about supporting two states but pursue actions that tell a far different story.”

Supporters of the language claim a law which applies equally to “Israel or in territories controlled by Israel” is consistent with US policy and that the language introduced into the TPA legislation and other bills is focused on fighting Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) measures targeting Israel. One supporter, Rep. Peter Roskam (R,IL) said Monday, “The bipartisan bill enacted today conditions any free trade agreement with the European Union on its rejection of BDS. This will force companies like telecom giant Orange, which is partially owned by the French government, to think twice before engaging in economic warfare against Israel. No longer will these companies be able to freely attack a key US ally without consequence.” On Tuesday French telecom Orange and Partner Communications, Orange’s Israeli brand licensee, announced Partner Communications will cease using Orange’s name within 24 months.

The US Department of State released a statement on Tuesday that addressed the concerns raised by Lara Friedman and others. According to State Department spokesman John Kirby “[the United States] will … continue to uphold policies integral to preserving the prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The statement reiterated that, “Administrations of both parties have long recognized that settlement activity and efforts to change facts on the ground undermine the goal of a two-state solution.” Kirby said the US will continue to oppose BDS targeting Israel. “However by conflating Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories,” a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy toward the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity. Every U.S. administration since 1967 – Democrat and Republican alike – has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines. This Administration is no different. The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and, by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.”

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