In the next few weeks a number of European countries will likely caution their citizens against doing business in the settlements, following the publication of just such a warning Tuesday on the French Foreign Ministry’s website, Israeli diplomatic officials said Wednesday.
“This move is neither constructive nor surprising,” one senior official said, acknowledging – though – that Paris will not be the last to issue such a warning.
International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz was much less reticent in his criticism, accusing the Europeans of a double standard in taking these measures against Israel, but not against companies doing business in northern Cyprus.
“There is a crystal clear European position that northern Cyprus is an occupied territory,” Steinitz told a delegation of visiting European Jewish leaders at the Knesset. “I never heard that any European state warned their business sector not to do any business, buy or cooperate, with companies in northern Cyprus. Why is there a difference? Really there is a double standard, and this is something to which we cannot agree.”
The French Foreign Ministry, in the Travel Advice section on their website – under an entry for Israel/Palestinian territories entitled “Useful Info” – warned that the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights, are “occupied by Israel since 1967. Settlements are illegal under international law.”
“As a result,” the statement warned, “there are risks related to economic and financial activities in Israeli settlements.
Financial transactions, investments, purchasing, supplies and other economic activities in the settlements or benefiting the settlements, entail legal and economic risks related to the fact that Israeli settlements under international law are built on occupied lands and are not recognized as part of the territory of Israel.”
The statement said that “citizens and businesses considering economic or financial activities in the settlements are called to seek appropriate legal advice before proceeding with these activities.”
The French guidelines used very similar wording to that used by Britain when it issued a warning of its own against economic activity in the settlements last December.
The Germans and the Dutch, too, have issued similar warnings.
An official at the French Embassy in Tel Aviv said the guidelines were only recommendations, and were not legally binding. Indeed, in March 2013 the Versailles Court of Appeals ruled that French companies involved in the construction of Jerusalem’s light rail were not in violation of international law.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, in his comments to the European leaders, called on them to use their political and public influence to speak up against these types of measures. He called on them to make clear that they “do not accept economic sanctions on the only Jewish state in the whole world, and the only free state in the Middle East.”
Pointing to the butchery taking place throughout the region, Bennett said sardonically, “and the big problem is that Jews are building homes in their own land. It is not anti-Israel, it is flat anti-Semitism, and what I ask of you is to speak up – that’s the one request I have.”
Bennett pointed out that France’s warning was applicable in Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem.
“Let me ask you a question” he said. “They say Jerusalem is occupied territory. How do you occupy your own home?” Dani Dayan, the former head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, tweeted in response to a Haaretz report on the issue, that despite the French government’s warnings, thousands of French citizens “live here” and “keep joining us each year. That investment won’t stop.”
Sam Sokol contributed to this report.