Accurately labeling West Bank products is the law

Dylan Williams and Jackie Blank
on February 4, 2016

This piece was originally published in The Hill

If you are serious about your health and the health of those you love, you probably read product labels to ensure that what you buy is safe and wholesome. It shouldn’t be any different for consumers who also care deeply about Israel and the health of its democracy and Jewish character.

In international commerce, many types of products require labels indicating their origin. The United States, the European Union and Israel all require indication of origin labels on most foods, cosmetics and certain manufactured goods. And no matter whether a “Made in” label is required for a particular kind of product or is placed on it voluntarily, every importing country requires as a matter of law that the label be accurate.

That is why the United States has long required that products grown or manufactured over the Green Line that bear an indication of origin be labeled as “Made in the West Bank” or “Made in Gaza” and NOT “Made in Israel.” First put in place in 1995 under President Clinton following the Oslo Accords and reaffirmed last month, the expressly stated purpose of the rule is to “provide American purchasers with important information indicating [the goods’] origin” as required by law.

European countries also prohibit the labeling of goods originating from the West Bank as “Made in Israel” on the basis that it is inaccurate. The European Commission reaffirmed this requirement in an interpretive notice issued in November of last year. The notice further required, unlike the U.S. policy, that among goods produced in the West Bank, those originating in settlement areas–as distinct from Palestinian Authority-administered areas–must be labeled as such.

Preserving the distinction between the State of Israel and the territory it controls over the Green Line is a critical element of longstanding bipartisan U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and support for Israel. The Green Line has long been understood to be the key starting point for negotiation of Israel’s final borders and will form the basis for the outlines of a future Palestinian state, with mutually agreed land swaps. Efforts to blur or erase the Green Line therefore seriously undermine the two-state solution that is the only way to ensure Israel’s long-term security, democracy and Jewish character.

That is why legislation in Congress purporting to defend Israel from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)–but actually intended to obscure the distinction in U.S. law and policy between Israel and the territory it controls in the West Bank–is so dangerous.

The United States–like J Street–vigorously opposes the global BDS movement against Israel, among other reasons because the movement undermines the two-state solution and deliberately tries to erase the line between Israel and the territories it has controlled since 1967.

Yet resolutions introduced in the House and Senate in response to the EC interpretative notice–like the Global BDS Movement itself–also blur the distinction between Israel and the territory over the Green Line. They equate Israel and “Israeli-controlled territory” and incorrectly refer to products made in Israeli settlements as “Israeli products.” New legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — author of last year’s notorious letter to the Iranian regime — goes even further, seeking to change U.S. law to allow products made in the West Bank and even Gaza to be labeled “Made in Israel.”

Each of these legislative efforts would therefore actually assist the efforts of the Global BDS Movement and other opponents of a two-state solution in erasing the distinction between Israel and the territories it controls. If passed, they would constitute the global BDS movement’s first and only victories in the U.S. Congress.

They would also put U.S. lawmakers on-record protecting and legitimizing Israeli settlement activity on the world stage–a position diametrically opposed to consistent U.S. opposition to settlement expansion under Democratic and Republican administrations alike for nearly 50 years. In addition to undermining the Green Line, such efforts also risk destroying the United States’ credibility as an honest broker in seeking the two-state solution that both parties to the conflict claim to desire.

The United States’ unbreakable commitment to Israel’s long-term security, democracy and Jewish character therefore requires that it maintain and enforce the critical distinction between Israel proper and the territory over the Green Line that Israel occupies. Congress and the entire pro-Israel community should recognize the significance of the Green Line, rather than work against Israel’s interests to erase it.

Williams is vice president of Government Affairs at J Street, where Blank is a Government Affairs associate.