The West Bank and Gaza Strip are not Israel, Sen. Cotton – Josh Ruebner/TheHill
Quick, somebody hand Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) an atlas, because he is in desperate need of a geography lesson.
Last year, the junior senator from Arkansas bumbled into the foreign policy arena by directly appealing in an open letter to Iran’s leadership to join him in a campaign to undermine the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations. This brazen evisceration of the separation of powers was termed “mutinous” by a former major general.
This time around, Cotton has waded into the depths of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and quickly finds himself in over his head in another quixotic bid to usurp the executive branch’s foreign policy decision-making prerogatives.
On Feb. 1, Cotton introduced S. 2474, a bill that would enable Israeli settlement goods produced in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank (including East Jerusalem) to be exported to the United States, inaccurately labeled as “Made in Israel.”
Cotton’s bill would even allow for goods produced in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip to be labeled “Product of Israel.” Israel dismantled its illegal settlements in Gaza in 2005, but is still the legally occupying power as evidenced by its imposition of a crippling land, sea and air blockade. Does Cotton envision a future scenario in which Israel recolonizes Gaza and exports products from there?
Although couched in technocratic, unprepossessing terms of establishing “proper markings for country of origin marking requirements,” S. 2474 is in reality a radical congressional effort to upend five decades of U.S. policy.
In 1967, the United States played a seminal role in getting the United Nations to adopt Security Council Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied” in that year’s war, which include the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since then, the United States has recognized Israel as holding these territories under belligerent military occupation, has deemed its colonization of these Palestinian lands inconsistent with international law and has maintained that the ultimate disposition of these Palestinians lands can only be determined through bilateral negotiations.
If passed, Cotton’s bill would unilaterally rewrite these foundations of U.S. policy and give the government’s imprimatur to Israel’s drive to permanently control the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip by asserting that these lands should be considered part of Israel’s sovereign territory. Such a drastic, annexationist policy change would condemn Palestinians to continue to suffer in perpetuity under a brutal military occupation regime until international pressure forces Israel to end its apartheid policies and transform into a democracy with equal rights for all who live under its rule.
Do those senators who still sincerely believe in an increasingly unworkable two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue really want to go down this rabbit hole?
And do senators believe that a bill with such far-reaching implications should be the proper response to a recent Customs and Border Protection guidance note merely reiterating a 20-year-old U.S. policy that Israeli settlement goods cannot be fraudulently marketed to U.S. consumers as products made in Israel?
By restating that Israeli settlement goods “erroneously marked as products of Israel will be subject to an enforcement action,” Customs and Border Protection is simply signaling that Israeli settlement goods, like all products entering the United States, must have accurate country-of-origin labeling or face a 10 percent ad valorem duty.
If Israel’s friends on Capitol Hill believe that the country should not be singled out for special treatment, then why are they proposing a bill which would carve out an exemption for Israel alone to skirt country-of-origin labeling requirements that apply to all other countries?
In reality, the recent Customs and Border Protection note does not go nearly far enough on Israeli settlement goods. Unlike the recent European Union decision to label Israeli settlements products as such, current U.S. policy does not require Israeli settlement goods to be differentiated from Palestinian products made in the West Bank. Customs and Border Protection should issue a follow-up guidance note stipulating that Israeli settlement products should be affirmatively labeled as such in order for U.S. consumers to make informed moral decisions about whether they wish to support businesses complicit in and benefiting from Israel’s ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.
It is also disturbing that Israeli settlement goods can still benefit from duty-free entry to the United States as long they are properly labeled as originating from the West Bank. Nothing in the text of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement (FTA), signed in 1985, however, extends duty-free treatment to goods produced in Israeli settlements. Customs and Border Protection should therefore also issue a follow-up guidance note stipulating that goods produced in Israeli settlements do not fall under the purview of the FTA and will henceforth face import duties assessed at the same rates as for non-FTA imports.
These realistic bureaucratic steps would be a welcome development in better aligning how products from these illegal settlements are treated with official U.S. policy on the illegality of Israeli settlements.
Josh Ruebner is policy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of “Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”