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Senators urge Trump to axe 'Made in West Bank' settlement labels before end of term

Four Republican senators warn Trump administration that labelling Israeli settlement products anything other than 'Made in Israel' encourages BDS movement
Israeli protestor carries national flag and US President Donald Trump campaign hat after heckling tour by EU diplomats at settlement in East Jerusalem on 16 November (AFP/File photo)

A group of Republican senators is urging US President Donald Trump to change customs policy and guidelines before he leaves office to allow goods produced in occupied West Bank settlements to be labelled "Made in Israel".  

Led by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and Marco Rubio of Florida all joined in writing a letter to the president, urging the White House to make a last-minute change that would break international norms and decades-long US policy. 

All four senators have received substantial campaign funding from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel lobby groups.

Since the 1995 Oslo Accords, US guidelines have stipulated that all products produced in the occupied West Bank, including Israeli settlements, be labelled as "Made in West Bank". 

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In 2016, former President Barack Obama republished the guidelines, stressing that those breaking protocol may incur fines. 

In the letter announced on Wednesday, the senators implied that the Trump administration had not been enforcing such requirements, but they were concerned for the post-Trump era. 

"While it is our understanding that this labeling policy is not enforced by U.S. authorities, we are concerned that a future administration could choose to enforce these rules," the senators said, carefully avoiding the direct insinuation that Trump's White House was on the way out, as the president has yet to accept President-elect Joe Biden's win. 

The senators warned that allowing products to be labelled "Made in West Bank" makes them vulnerable to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which urges consumers to support Palestinian rights by avoiding the purchase of Israeli goods, particularly those produced in settlements. 

"Your administration should continue its string of pro-Israel policy changes by undoing these misguided Clinton-era guidelines, thereby allowing Israeli goods produced in Judea and Samaria to be labeled as 'Made in Israel'," they said in the letter, using Israel's biblical term for the West Bank.

"This decision would be yet another achievement by your administration that would support Israel and would push back against anti-Semitism and the BDS movement."

Fighting BDS 

Nearly every state in the US has passed legislation seeking to limit the BDS movement, which has become increasingly popular with university students as well as other rising groups including the Black Lives Matter movement and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), both of which have endorsed it. 

Last year, a resolution condemning the BDS campaign passed in the House, but 17 members of congress voted against it, signalling a small shift in attitudes among some Democrats. 

In their letter on Monday, the senators also decried the United Nations Human Rights Council's February decision to release a long-awaited list of 112 companies that it had concluded have quiet ties to illegal Israeli settlements.

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"Unfortunately, the United Nations and some prominent members of the Democratic Party are working to oppose Israel and to support the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to isolate and damage Israel economically," the senators wrote.

Pro-Palestinian activists have long called on the US to take a stronger stance, asking for settlement goods to be labelled as such, as opposed to a "West Bank" label, which fails to differentiate between Palestinian products and those made in Israeli outposts. 

Most world bodies consider Israeli settlements illegal under international law. In Europe, products from Israeli settlements are explicitly labelled as such, despite legal challenges

Israel has strongly objected to EU policy as being "political and discriminating against Israel". 

Last year, the UN expert on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories called for a ban on products made in Israeli settlements in order to pressure Israel to end its occupation.

Israel's plans to annex large swaths of the occupied West Bank, including some of its far-flung settlement outposts, were approved by the Trump administration as part of its plan for the Middle East. But annexation was put on hold in August when the United Arab Emirates and then Bahrain agreed to normalise relations with Israel.