Will Israel-South Korea free trade deal exclude West Bank settlements?

Israel has previously signed free-trade agreements which have excluded pre-1967 areas of the country, most notably with the European Union.

August 21, 2019 11:36
3 minute read.
A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the West

A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the West Bank February 15, 2017. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Wednesday’s initial signing of the country’s first-ever trade deal with an Asian country – South Korea – less than a month before the September 17 election, has placed a microscope on any language that might exclude West Bank settlements, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Economy and Industry Ministry has released a copy of the text in advance of the Jerusalem ceremonial signing that will include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen, and South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.

Israel has previously signed free-trade agreements which have excluded pre-1967 areas of the country, most notably with the European Union.

Such language can be vague. The government has, in such instances, reimbursed businesses over the Green Line for the extra customs fees that are levied against their products so that they can remain competitive with businesses located within sovereign Israel.

The issue is not the harm done to businesses over the Green Line, but rather the symbolic nature of the inclusion of such language, particularly in the first such agreement with an Asian country. Israel has sought non-European markets, in part to escape the potential economic harm of the BDS movement.

The deal with a country, where the volume of trade was $2.5 billion in 2018, a 15% increase since 2017, is an electoral windfall for Netanyahu.

It’s an electoral surge that could backfire, however, should it turn out that the document contains any kind of discriminatory language against Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser is so certain that the deal discriminates against areas of the country which Israel already holds to be sovereign – the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem – that he has already written a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit asking that he forbid Netanyahu from signing the deal.

He accused Netanyahu of dragging his feet on the deal, which he said, had been prepared for months, but was brought out now for electoral reasons by a lame duck government that does not have the authority to bind a future government to such a document.
It’s “absurd” that the same government which is battling to prevent the BDS movement from discriminating against areas of the country over the pre-1967 lines would now turn around and sign a document that does precisely that, he said.

Hauser added that it is doing so, precisely at a time when even the US Congress has spoken out against BDS and the discrimination of any Israeli products, no matter where they are produced.

He said that the signing on a “discriminatory” document also comes just one week after Israel refused entry to US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib due to their support of BDS.

But the Palestinian Authority this week put out a statement warning that the Israeli-South Korea Free Trade Agreement would not discriminate against Israeli products produced over the Green Line.

Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called on South Korea to only offer free trade status to products produced within sovereign Israel. According to the Palestinian News Agency Wafa, PA Foreign Minister Riyad Malki is expected to press Seoul on excluding those products.

Settlers were initially concerned that their produces would be excluded despite whatever language is written on the document.

Sources told The Jerusalem Post that they believe they will be part of the agreement.

When asked about the agreement Yesha director-general Yigal Dilmoni had only positive words to stay.

“We support the prime minister and the finance minister in signing a free trade agreement with South Korea. This kind of activity strengthens and advances the State of Israel’s economy by opening new gateways for commerce,” he said. “After many conversations that we held with the Finance Ministry and the people in his office, we are certain that the Judea and Samaria business people will not be harmed, and that the door will be also be open for them to engage in business with South Korea.”

“The State of Israel won’t sign any document that discriminates [against] Judea and Samaria,” Dilmoni said. “Tomorrow when the deal is signed we will see what the truth is.”

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