Congress is sneakily trying to rewrite American policy on Israeli settlements. It must be stopped – Emily Hauser/TheWeek
For as long as Israel has been building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, the U.S. has expressed unequivocal opposition to them.
The Johnson White House called settlements “contrary to the Geneva Conventions.” Former Secretary of State James Baker said they “violate United States policy.” Former President George W. Bush demanded “settlement activity in occupied territories must stop.” And the Obama Administration has said repeatedly that settlements are “illegitimate.” The fact that American opprobrium hasn’t slowed Israel’s land grab — that, indeed, the U.S. government has tacitly encouraged settlement expansion by failing to exact a diplomatic price for its continuation — doesn’t change the policy.
Now, however, a single clause in a bill that’s passed the House and is expected to pass the Senate could be a tangible step toward the change that Israel seeks. Buried in H.R. 644 (known as the Customs Bill) is the following phrase:
[Congress] supports efforts to prevent investigations or prosecutions by governments or international organizations of United States persons on the sole basis of such persons doing business with Israel, with Israeli entities, or in Israeli-controlled territories. [H.R. 644, emphasis mine]
Before now, America (along with the global community) has drawn a line between internationally recognized Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. This is why the U.S. embassy isn’t in Jerusalem: More than half of Israel’s capital sits on annexed West Bank land claimed by Palestinians as their own capital. This is why — just last week — the U.S. Customs office issued a statement reiterating that settlement-produced goods may not be marked as “Made in Israel” — and that furthermore, “Goods that are erroneously marked as products of Israel will be subject to an enforcement action.”
Forty-nine years of policy aside, however, members of Congress have long taken it upon themselves to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a political tool, currying favor among certain voters and funders. Congress’ Customs Bill is a natural continuation of this pattern of cynical disregard for either the demands of peace or the reality on the ground.
Intended as a sop to those who oppose the international movement which calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel to protest the occupation, the words “or in Israeli-controlled territories” manage not only to erase the international border that exists between the sovereign state of Israel and Palestinian lands, but also to build common cause with the very boycotters at whom Congress hopes to thumb its nose.