Labelling as sop to boycotters

The only new settlement policy that will work will be one that stems from softened Arab attitudes


‘The British government is opposed to any kind of boycott of Israel” says a spokesman for the British Embassy in Israel. Yeah, right. What do you think I am mate, an idiot? (Don’t answer that.)

Last week, the British government helpfully clarified its position on labelling goods from the West Bank. It is already illegal to label a good that comes from the West Bank as having been made in Israel. But now further guidance has been forthcoming. Not a rule, you understand, simply a recommendation. Goods should be labelled to indicate whether they are made by Israeli settlers or by Palestinians.

Great. Now I can be absolutely sure I haven’t accidently bought something made by a Jew. I hate those guys.

There is a vast difference between the original rule — that goods from an area that is not internationally recognised as being in Israel should not be labelled as coming from Israel — and this new recommendation. The government is promoting the idea that the ethnic origin of the goods should be made clear on the label.

Anyone fancy: “These goods have been made in N. Ireland but by Roman Catholics”?

Anyone fancy: “These goods have been made in Northern Ireland but by people of Roman Catholic extraction”? “Made in Rwanda by Tutsis”? Don’t worry, though. This won’t happen. The new recommendation will start with Israel and stop there, too.

So the suggestion that the British Government does not support a boycott is disingenuous. Labelling goods as coming from the West Bank can be justified as a pedantic insistence upon international law. By contrast, labelling goods as coming from settlers is nakedly political — rather than administrative. It is intended to aid those organising boycotts of those goods. This labelling idea was initiated by boycotters and has been granted as a political concession to them. So, if this is a naked piece of politics, what ought we to think of it? Besides remarking that the singling out of Jewish-made goods for an ethnic labelling system is disgusting. Is it good politics?

Here is my view. The decision to settle in the land Israel conquered in the wars was a disastrous error — a wrong that will have to be reversed. Israel and supporters like me cannot complain about the huge international pressure to reverse the policy.

So I sympathise with the position of the Obama administration and its frustration that it cannot persuade the Israelis to back down on settlement building. So long as they don’t think a new Israeli policy on settlements will bring peace. Or even much advance it.

The Arab governments and the Palestinians were opposed to the state of Israel before there were settlements in the territories. They killed Jews before there were settlements in the territories. They launched wars before there were settlements in the territories. They will go on doing so after there are settlements.

How do we know this? Because when the Sharon government withdrew from Gaza, the situation got worse rather than better. And world opinion, which is so anxious for settlements to be dismantled, did not shift at all when Israel did exactly that.

Natan Sharansky has argued that instead of the dismantling of the settlements being required for peace, the opposite is the case. We will know that peace is possible when we believe that the settlers would be able to remain in a Palestinian state without being killed.

The diplomatic pressure being exerted on Israel to halt settlement building is understandable. It is also international displacement activity. If you insist on political labelling of food, why not put this: in the end, peace will only come when the Palestinians decide they are willing to live peacefully alongside Jews.

daniel.finkelstein@thetimes.co.uk

Last updated: 11:24am, December 17 2009