When it comes to Settlements, It’s Never Too Late

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I will not lie. I have quite a few bones to pick with the Palestinian leadership and their method of managing the conflict. However, I am also a fair enough person to admit when someone is doing something right in my opinion. Since last January, Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad has waged a war on settlement products in the Palestinian territories, a war that is in full force today. Fayyad has been photographed burning settlement products in Salfit and calling on Palestinians to boycott all settlement products. Palestinian police and security services have blocked the entry of settlement products to Palestinian markets and a law was signed by President Mahmoud Abbas banning these products in Palestinian areas just last month. Violators face heavy fines or even imprisonment. Cantaloupes, meat, crackers and cookies made in settlement industrial zones in the West Bank have all been swept off Palestinian shelves in a bid to purge the economy of one of its most dangerous ills.

While some critics may say this is too little too late –” after all, settlements have been around almost as long as the conflict –” I would rather say "better late than never." According to estimates provided by the Ministry of Economy, settlement products account for at least $200 million a year. That’s a ton of money poured into what Palestinian officials have called "a cancer."

In any case, it’s a good thing Prime Minister Fayyad finally took charge. The government has yet to outlaw Palestinian labor in settlements given the lack of better alternatives from some workers, but they strongly discourage it, pushing laborers to "find work elsewhere."

Such a move has been a long time coming. Settlements really are a cancer in Palestinian territories and have exhausted the population economically, politically and geographically with the ever-expanding red-roofed houses, roads and infrastructure. Not to mention that settlements built in the West Bank are illegal under international law, something even the United States cannot dismiss completely. So, as Palestinians, the least we can do is boycott these settlements in all ways possible.

Perhaps the leadership headed by Fayyad was encouraged by the Europeans, who have tightened the reins on settlement products entering the EU territory. Settlement products, says the EU, are not made in Israel and are therefore not eligible for preferential access to EU markets along with Palestinian products. The Palestinians, naturally, have taken the restrictions several steps further, banning these products altogether, which will hopefully encourage other parties to realize how harmful settlements are to the Palestinians and to any prospects for peace.

Israel, unsurprisingly, does not see it that way. Amazing how panicky Israel has become over this Palestinian declaration against something already deemed illegal by the rest of the world. "The Palestinian boycott is counterproductive and will only damage peace prospects," opined Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor. "I don’t think by concentrating their efforts on boycotts they will achieve any of the political goals, if these still include reaching a peace agreement with Israel."

Furthermore, Israeli officials have said the ban would be "discussed" in the upcoming proximity talks, slated to begin this week. The Knesset’s economic affairs committee has proposed several responses to the Palestinian ban, including trying to block the PA joining the World Trade Organization and blocking any EU funding that might go towards helping the settlement ban. Chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Israel Shraga Brosh even went as far as saying Israel should close its ports to imports and exports of raw materials and goods from the Palestinian Authority.

"Our port is their oxygen tube and closing it will only hurt them, not us…we will show them that after their slap in the face, we will not turn the other cheek," Brosh said.

This is not all false information. Palestine is heavily dependent economically on Israel and can only conduct trade though Israel’s ports and border crossings. Furthermore, until an alternative is offered to the thousands of Palestinians forced to work in the settlements’ industrial zones, these jobs are a life line for their families. Israel understands this well and will no doubt exploit this fact to pressure the Palestinians to give up their fight. After all, Israel is all about consolidating the settlement enterprise in the Palestinian territories and it needs the Palestinian economy to stay alive. Besides, perhaps what is more dangerous to Israel is the spotlight that now shines down on its years-long illegal policies. Israel is a master of delving into details rather than addressing the core issues. It is the best way to keep a real solution at bay and buy time to continue usurping more Palestinian land. We all know how negotiations between the two sides usually transpire. They start with the broad guidelines and end up as a cockfight about a few dozen roadblocks, a few million dollars or a few thousand laborers allowed entry into Israel. Rarely are key issues such as Jerusalem, the borders, refugees or settlements discussed in earnest, which is all to Israel’s benefit.

Now with the Palestinians officially banning settlement products just as proximity talks are to be launched, Israel is fretting over what kind of publicity this issue will receive. Israel doesn’t want to talk seriously about dismantling settlements. That became clear during all the futile years of negotiations behind us. It would rather nip this little Palestinian scheme in the bud before it spins out of control and the illegality of settlements and their damaging repercussions on any prospects of peace are finally exposed in broad daylight.

One thing is for sure. Israel will continue to pressure the Palestinians until they buckle. For once, the Palestinian leadership may actually have an ace in the hole. Let’s just hope we don’t blink first.

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