Department for International Trade calls for consultation over a new trade deal with Israel

The UK is Israel’s third largest trading partner, but Israel is well down the list for the UK, at about sixtieth.  However, our current trade agreement with Israel is the old European Union one, amended by inserting UK instead of EU, and the Department for International Trade (DIT) wants to upgrade the deal to “something more ambitious.”

Liberal Democrats at last September’s Conference also called for better trade ties with Israel, but they did so with a very important caveat.  They wanted to have a better trading relationship with Israel and also to observe international law, by banning trade in any goods or services from the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  The settlements are, of course, illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention (4GC), and so is trading with them.

International Law has in recent times been more honoured in the breach than the observance, and the war in Ukraine has reminded us how necessary it is to get important fundamental principles agreed across the globe, and to make sure everyone abides by them.  Signatories to the Geneva Conventions are not abiding by international law if they trade with businesses operating illegally in the OPT.

The DIT is seeking views from interested parties about how the new deal should be shaped, via this link:.  It gives us all an opportunity to say we want to put international law back in its rightful place, at the front and centre of international relations.

This proposed new deal will be with the state of Israel; this means it does not cover Israeli citizens living in the occupied parts of Palestinian, so it will have to specifically outlaw trade with the settlements in order to conform with 4GC.  There need to be prohibitions both on settlement goods being exported to the UK via Israel, and on goods leaving the UK for a customer in a West Bank settlement, where an Israeli business has acted as the middle-man.  The settlement trade ban should be written into UK law, as demanded last year by the Lib Dem Conference; until that happens, it should be written into the trade agreement.  Illegal settlers in the OPT obviously don’t have a trade agreement with the UK, and cutting out the route through Israel would achieve what 4GC calls for.

The DIT has asked for our opinion, so we should give it.  The deadline is next Wednesday, 30th March.   

* Andy Daer is a member of the Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire and Vice Chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine

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15 Comments

  • It couldn’t be clearer. The relevant law is contained in Security Council Resolution 2334, paras 1 and 5:

    [The Security Council]…

    ” (1) reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;…

    “(5) Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph one of this resolution, to distinguish in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.

    Trade deals are “relevant dealings” for the purposes of para 5. If the new trade deal extends to the settlements it will be a disgrace, and a breach by Johnson’s Britain of international law.

    Allowing business as usual despite Israel’s breaches of international law, such as the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, encouraged and enabled Putin in 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, and will have emboldened him to invade Ukraine.

  • Pamela Manning 27th Mar '22 - 12:11pm

    In 2013 UK government issued a warning to business on the reputational damage of trade with illegal settlements without any enforcement measures. At 2.4 on the Government website currently the same warning is repeated https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/overseas-business-risk-palestinian-territories/overseas-business-risk-the-occupied-palestinian-territories
    but will again be ignored unless something is incorporated into any trade agreement.

  • Brad Barrows 27th Mar '22 - 12:49pm

    @John McHugo
    Agreed, but since I don’t believe Israel will honestly label products produced in West Bank settlements or illegally annexed territory to enable them to be subjected to an international boycott, the logical position is a complete trade embargo. Therefore the Liberal Democrat position in both wanting better trade links plus adherence to international law is nothing more than posturing.

  • John McHugo 27th Mar '22 - 3:09pm

    @Brad Barrows,

    I disagree.

    The Israeli government will be very reluctant to sign up to a deal which makes it clear that settlements on occupied land are not included, especially (but not only) when that land has been illegally annexed, as in the case of East Jerusalem.

    If the deal requires Israel to produce certificates of origin that make it clear the goods, or components of the goods, do not emanate from a settlement this might even be a deal breaker. Israel cares far more about this than whatever trade it might be able to conduct by falsely claiming the goods were produced inside Israel. In this respect, I think our party policy carries real teeth and is not, as you suggest, just posturing.

  • @Brad Barrows, there is no logical reason to extend the ban beyond the Occupied Territories, and to do so would make no sense. We want to send Israel the message that illegal occupation is wrong, not that the state of Israel is wrong.
    None of us involved in writing the amendment to the motion at last September’s conference were unaware that people would try to find ways round a trade ban, but we believed the Israeli public would take notice of such action, coming as it did from a friendly country. I’m sorry if you think that is “posturing”. We thought we were stating our belief in upholding international law.

  • Bruce Meredeen 27th Mar '22 - 7:07pm

    Brad Barrows for what reason do you believe that Israel will be dishonest when labelling products? Do you have any evidence for your belief?

  • John McHugo 27th Mar ’22 – 3:09pm:
    The Israeli government will be very reluctant to sign up to a deal which makes it clear that settlements on occupied land are not included,…

    Reluctant or not, they already have…

    ‘Imports: Israeli Settlements’ [April 2019]:
    https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2019-03-25.HL14807.h

    Department for International Trade written question – answered on 2nd April 2019.

    Baroness Tonge Non-affiliated:
    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what trade agreements apply to goods coming from Israeli settlements (1) now, and (2) after the UK leaves the EU.

    Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade:
    The EU-Israel Trade Agreements and the transitioned UK-Israel Trade Agreement apply to the State of Israel. The UK has been clear that it does not recognise the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), including the settlements, as part of the State of Israel and that the OPTs are not covered by the UK-Israel Agreement.

    The EU-Palestinian Authority Interim Agreement and the transitioned UK-Palestinian Authority Interim Agreement apply to the territory of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    Products produced in the Israeli settlements, located within the territories brought under Israeli administration since June 1967, are not entitled to benefit from preferential tariff treatment under either agreement.

  • @Bruce Meredeen: “The EU top court has ruled that EU countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements on their labels, in a decision welcomed by rights groups but likely to spark anger in Israel. The European court of justice said: “Foodstuffs originating in the territories occupied by the state of Israel must bear the indication of their territory of origin.” (December 2019)
    “The Luxembourg-based court said the labelling of products from Israeli settlements must provide an “indication of that provenance” so consumers could make “informed choices” when they shopped.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/12/products-israeli-settlements-labelled-eu-court
    But perhaps, Bruce, you’d argue that this doesn’t prove that Israel has continuously mislabelled goods from the Israeli settlements, and says more about those suggesting that such dishonesty would ever occur beyond a trivial level?
    The article, however, goes on to report:
    “In Israel, Prof Eugene Kontorovich, the director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, said the European court was “approving putting a new kind of yellow star on Jewish-made products”.
    “This blatant discrimination makes it more urgent than ever for the Trump administration to defy Brussels by making official what has long been US practice, to allow these products to be labelled ‘Made in Israel’,” said Kontorovich.”
    It would seem that Eugene Kontorovich believes this practice, which you would seem to acknowledge to be dishonest, should continue, into the EU, as the US allows such practice.

  • Brad Barrows 28th Mar '22 - 8:48am

    @Bruce Meredeen
    Hi Bruce, Israel regards the illegally annexed Golan Heights as part of Israel and labels products from there as ‘made in Israel’. They may not regard this as dishonest, but it has the effect of making it impossible to know whether a produce was produced on occupied land.

    To the wider point about trade with Israel, why is it that Russia gets sanctions placed on it (rightly) for illegally annexing territory (Crimea) but Israel does not get sanctions applied to it for illegally annexing territory (Golan Heights.) Also, any other country that actively expropriated land from the residents of occupied territories to build illegal settlements for its own citizens to move into as a way of systematically colonising the territory would be subjected to huge international sanction…but not Israel. The Liberal Democrats should not be Party to this disgraceful display of double-standards.

  • The UK is Israel’s third largest trading partner
    According to this document: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/781446/continuing-the-uks-trade-relationship-with-israel.pdf

    “In 2017, UK exports to Israel were £2.3 billion, making it the UK’s 42nd largest export market (accounting for 0.4% of all UK exports). UK imports from Israel were £1.6 billion, making it the UK’s 47th largest import source (accounting for 0.3% of all UK imports). “?

    I suggest the best we can do, as we are such an important export market for Israel, is to use this to put pressure on Israel to recognise International law and withdraw from the occupied territories and recognise the rights of the Palestinian’s. This bringing our stance on Israel into line with our stance on Russia over its current attempts to annex parts of Ukraine.

  • John McHugo 29th Mar '22 - 9:32am

    @Jeff
    Thank you for this. Well done Jenny Tonge for asking this! I had been unaware that this was the official ministerial response. What needs to happen is that Israeli exporters to the UK are required to fill in a certificate of origin form that confirms that their products do not originate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. I would be interested to know whether this is a requirement. A subject for another parliamentary question?

  • As far as I understand it, the Golan Heights Law (de facto if not de jure annexation) is not recognized internationally except (as of March 2019 ) by the United States and that was declared “null and void and without international legal effect” by United Nations Security Council Resolution 497.
    The UK position was set out in a government statement in 2019
    “The UK views the Golan Heights as territory occupied by Israel. Annexation of territory by force is prohibited under international law, including the UN Charter.
    We did not recognise Israel’s annexation in 1981 and have no plans to change our position.”

  • @Joe Burke

    I think that is right. Unfortunately Israel’s purported annexation of the Golan Heights presented a clear precedent for Vladimir Putin to annex Crimea, as did Israel’s purported annexation of East Jerusalem. Donald Trump showed himself to be Putin’s useful idiot by extending US recognition to these illegal acts, as do all those who equivocate about them.

    I don’t know what our government’s policy is on labelling for “Israeli” produce from the Golan Heights. Does anyone else?

  • John McHugo 30th Mar ’22 – 10:50am:
    Unfortunately Israel’s purported annexation of the Golan Heights presented a clear precedent for Vladimir Putin to annex Crimea,…

    Turkey’s invasion of Northern Cyprus in 1974 would perhaps be a better example as that was based on a similar ethnolinguistic pretext.

    I don’t know what our government’s policy is on labelling for “Israeli” produce from the Golan Heights.

    This appears to be the latest guidance…

    ‘Notice to importers: imports from Israel into the United Kingdom’ [January 2021]:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/notice-to-importers-treatment-of-goods-from-israeli-settlements/notice-to-importers-imports-from-israel-into-the-united-kingdom

    2) It is recalled that according to the arrangement between Israel and the United Kingdom for the implementation of Protocol 4 to the UK-Israel Trade and Partnership Agreement, all movement certificates EUR.1 and invoice declarations issued or made out in Israel, include, the postal code and the name of the city, village or industrial zone where production conferring originating status has taken place.
    […]

    4) Operators intending to present documentary evidence of origin with a view to securing preferential treatment for products originating in Israel are informed that the preferential treatment will be refused to the goods for which the proof of origin indicates that the production conferring originating status has taken place in a location within the territories brought under Israeli administration since June 1967.

  • John McHugo 31st Mar '22 - 8:52pm

    @Jeff,

    Thank you for the copy of the guidance. To my untrained eye, it looks good – presumably, if exporters from Israel have to give their postcode etc, UK customs can work out where the goods come from?

    As regards annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan as precedents for Putin’s annexation of the Crimea, they all breach the binding rule of international law that a State cannot annex territory that it occupies in war (whether it is a war of aggression or defence makes no difference).

    I don’t see Northern Cyprus as being quite the same – as far as I know, Turkey has not annexed any of the territory it occupied.

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