Minister to act on settlement goods?

Burt promises to ‘extend guidelines’ on false labelling of settlement goods as ‘Made in Israel’
Foreign & Commonwealth Questions on Palestine 

Middle East minister Alastair Burt promised at Foreign Office questions that he would extend guidelines that prevent goods from illegal settlements in the West Bank being sold in the UK under misleading “Made in Israel” labels. 

Answering questions from MPs Richard Burden and Lisa Nandy, he acknowledged the concerns about Ahava beauty products from the Palestinian part of the Dead Sea sold as “Made in Israel” and said it was important to have correct labelling.Incorrect labelling allows companies based in illegal settlements to defraud the British taxpayer by paying lower customs duty as well as avoiding the TUC-backed boycott of settlement products.Richard Burden reminded the Foreign Secretary – who is due to visit Israel and Palestine – that he and 16 European foreign ministers were pressing the EU to draw up guidelines to ensure goods produced in illegal settlements are not imported to the EU labelled “Made in Israel”.

The Foreign Secretary replied: “I have taken this up, along with other Foreign Ministers, with the EU High Representative. We look to the whole of the EU to do this in a co-ordinated and effective way.”

If there is no agreement between all 28 European foreign ministers it will be open to the UK – according to top legal advice published by the TUC – to put restrictions on the sale of illegal settlement products or to ban them completely.

The Foreign Secretary was also asked by MP Sir Bob Russell to withdraw support from the Union of European Football Associations’ Under-21 championships which are due to be played in Israel in June –  in spite of vigorous protests from the Palestinian Authority.

Mr Hague declined to take action, saying “I do not believe that sporting fixtures should be an obstacle to political progress of any form and I do not think they will be in this case.”

Mahmoud Sarsak, the Gazan footballer who went on hunger strike in an Israeli prison last year, is on a tour of European countries including the UK to campaign against the UEFA Under-21 finals being held in Israel.

The Foreign Secretary went on to describe President Obama’s recent visit to Israel and Palestine as “successful” and said the UK would make every effort to mobilise the European Union and Arab states behind “decisive US-led moves for peace”.

This was despite the widespread commentaries that the visit was a damp squib and, apart from a speech to students in Jerusalem, the US President made almost no reference to Israel’s refusal to stop building illegal settlements in the West Bank.

MP Jeremy Corbyn asked: “Does the Foreign Secretary not realise that any progress between Israel and Palestine is very unlikely to move on at all while the settlement building, the annexation of East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza continue? Until Israel radically modifies its behaviour towards the Palestinian people, how can there be any progress?

For the last six months William Hague has been pinning all his hopes on this visit. In November it was “top of the agenda in all our discussions with the United States”. Then he pledged “we will do everything we can to support American efforts”. And when it became clear that Obama was going to play the visit low-key, he said “we need to allow time and space for this American effort to develop”.

This week at Foreign Office questions he conceded that “settlement activity means that within a foreseeable time, a two-state solution will no longer be practical”.

How long will he give it? Previously he has said 2013 was make-or-break year. Practically speaking there would have to be signs of movement before the United Nations General Assembly meets at the end of September. The Palestinians have agreed to hold off applying for membership of the International Criminal Court for eight weeks – till May 17th.

Last week Secretary Kerry tried to extend the deadline by saying: “I think we have some period of time – a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it’s over.”

A statement by former prime ministers and foreign ministers of 11 European countries this week said that  “European leaders cannot wait for ever for action from the United States”.  They warned that “the EU’s inactivity in the face of an increasingly dangerous stagnation is both unprincipled and unwise.Occupation is actually being entrenched by the present Western policy.”

Link to Parliamentary Hansard>

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