Comment: Europe’s settlement product labeling hurts Palestinians, not Israelis

Ironically, Palestinian-backed boycott activism against Israel threatens to destabilize the Palestinian Authority.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (photo credit: REUTERS)
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The European Union’s recent decision to label products manufactured in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank is not merely a technical move as EU officials have claimed. Their intention seems clear enough: to draw European and global consumer attention to these products as a first step in boycotting them. European governments mistakenly believe that labeling and boycotting Israeli products manufactured in Jewish settlements will cause economic pain to Israeli businesses over the green line and cause them to fail. Politically, many European leaders and their political class believe that boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) will logically bring Israel to leave the settlements altogether and return to the 1949 armistice lines (1967 “borders”) thereby paving the way for a Palestinian state along these lines.
Their logic is misguided.
In fact, the newly approved EU labeling policy and Europe’s well known sympathy for BDS have already yielded unintended consequences. Labeling and boycotts have had minimal effects on Jewish settlement economics; instead, BDS harms the Palestinian economy. It has already resulted in the termination of hundreds of Palestinian employees of the public company Soda Stream that operates along with several hundred other companies in the Mishor Adumim Industrial Zone some 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. Some 4,000 Palestinians are employed there. BDS provocations against Soda Stream brought corporate management to move the company’s factory from Mishor Adumim to the Negev. The BDS cost: Close to 1,000 Palestinian workers, who had earned some 5,000 to 6,000 shekels monthly plus all Israeli worker benefits that are protected by Israeli law, lost well-paying employment. Those newly unemployed Palestinian workers will now need to seek employment in Palestinian cities of the West Bank at a monthly salary of some 1,500 shekels without social or medical benefits.
Soda Stream CEO Daniel Birnbaum has lashed out at BDS antics, telling the British Guardian recently, “It’s propaganda.
It’s politics. It’s hate. It’s anti-Semitism.” Birnbaum also noted that Soda Stream was only marginally economically affected by BDS. Therein lies Europe’s miscalculation. Their labeling and ongoing BDS pressure has had a negligible outcome on Israeli settlement businesses. However, it has had a deleterious effect on tens of thousands of Palestinian workers and their families who depend on Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in the West Bank’s Area C industrial zones.
Palestinian affairs analyst Pinchas Inbari reminds us that the possible snowball effect of BDS actions and Palestinian workers and managers losing their jobs can incite destabilization of the Palestinian Authority. The PA has led vociferous public BDS campaigns, particularly of late. One remembers former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad’s calls to burn settlement products.
Growing Palestinian economic frustrations can easily trigger a “Palestinian Spring” as economic grievances triggered the Islamic revolutions in Libya, Egypt Syria, Tunisia and Sudan.
Soda Stream may well be only the beginning of a tsunami of Palestinian unemployment. It characterizes a larger BDS threat. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are employed in hundreds of factories in some eight industrial zones in Area C of the West Bank that falls under Israeli control according to the Oslo interim accords.
Saad Shaher, the head of the Palestinian professional association in the West Bank, publicly called on PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas in an emotional plea on Palestinian television to avoid causing the closing the West Bank industrial zones before a suitable alternative is found.
Shaher’s calls apparently fell on deaf ears. What is likely to happen is that if the current BDS campaign rolls forward and the EU product labeling generates BDS momentum as can be expected, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers and their families will lose their jobs and ensuing Palestinian anger and frustration will be directed at the PA in Ramallah.
European leaders would be well advised to consider that their enthusiasm for settlement product labeling and support for BDS is not seriously affecting Israeli settlements.
Rather its hurting Palestinians working in the West Bank industrial zones. Ironically, Palestinian-backed boycott activism against Israel threatens to destabilize the Palestinian Authority.
The author is a Fellow and project director, Political Warfare, at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Previously, he served as secretary general of the World Jewish Congress.