One million signatures to push for an European law to end the business with illegal settlements

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Dani Sorolla
  • There are about three hundred Israeli settlements in Palestine that have been under occupation for more than half a century.
    There are about three hundred Israeli settlements in Palestine that have been under occupation for more than half a century. Source: Unsplash (CC License).
  • Western Sahara is one of the main occupied territories with which the EU maintains trade.
    Western Sahara is one of the main occupied territories with which the EU maintains trade. Source: Twitter ACAPS Federation.
  • The #StopSettlements campaign is pushing for an ICE to push through a law to end trade in illegal settlements.
    The #StopSettlements campaign is pushing for an ICE to push through a law to end trade in illegal settlements. Source: Unsplash (CC License).

The #StopSettlements campaign promotes an European Citizens' Initiative to push through a law to end trade in illegal settlements in the occupied territories, such as Palestine and Western Sahara.

The European Union (EU) rejects illegal settlements in the occupied territories and considers them an obstacle to international peace and stability. However, it continues to allow trade with them, which allows for the benefits of annexation, contributes to the expansion of settlements around the world, and perpetuates human rights violations.

"Settlements in occupied territories violate the rules of international law and, among other things, constitute war crimes. The annexation of an occupied territory is contrary to international law and therefore has no legal validity; Consequently, trade in these settlements is also illegal", Sonia Herrero, from the Federation of Catalan Associations Friends of the Sahrawi People (ACAPS), and Lina María González, from NOVACT, told Nonprofit.

In the face of this violation of international law involving trade in settlements in occupied territories - such as Palestine, Western Sahara or the Golan Heights, among others - an alliance of more than a hundred organizations, movements, unions and civil society groups have launched the European Citizens' Initiative (ICE) #StopSettlements, which seeks to collect one million signatures to demand a European law to end trade in illegal settlements.

For the promoters of the initiative, the EU and the Member States “have an obligation to align their legislation and policy with international humanitarian and human rights law, and the duty not to attend or support states that violate these rights through trade agreements and facilitating economic benefit above human rights”, say ACAPS and NOVACT.

Therefore, they call on European citizens to join the ICE to put forward a legislative proposal, which is of a general nature and is not aimed at a specific country or territory, which regulates commercial transactions with  entities from occupying countries or whom operate in occupied territories. Thus, by banning the import and export to the EU market of products originating in these territories, the aim is to avoid contributing to the maintenance of illegal situations of occupation and plunder of resources.

What is a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI)?

The way chosen to promote this legislative change that guarantees the conformity of the common commercial policy with the EU Treaties and with the International Law is the ICE. It is a legal instrument available to European citizens to urge the European institutions to establish specific legislation on specific issues and thus influence European policies with third countries, say from ACAPS and NOVACT, two entities that are members and promoters of the campaign.

To thrive and achieve the purpose of the EU enacting a general rule certifying that it will stop trading in illegal settlements in occupied territories, and will never do so in the future, the proposal must gather one million signatures collected in at least seven EU countries, whic

A lucrative business linked to employment

Unfortunately, the appropriation of natural resources and the destruction of the environment are common practices in situations of occupation and armed conflict. "Dozens of transnational companies take advantage of the employment context of different countries, to systematically exploit and hoard resources and enrich themselves with a plunder that is detrimental to the socio-economic development of the population autochthonous", said Herrero and Gonzalez.

A situation that continues to impact illegal settlements around the world. For example, in Palestine, where today there are about three hundred Israeli settlements that have been occupied for more than half a century. Israeli and international companies have created an economy that sustains its presence and expansion and depends on the illegal appropriation of Palestinian resources, such as land, water and minerals, which are exported and sold and each year they translate into millionaire profits for private gain.

It also occurs in the territories occupied by Morocco in Western Sahara; an area rich in natural resources such as fishing, phosphate or sand; where imports in 2020 exceeded five hundred million euros, according to data from the European Commission (EC).

Thus, in the face of a global corporate law that protects the economic interests of companies and deregulates the protection of human rights, it is the states that end up playing a key role in preventing the violation of rights in territories under occupation. At this point, the law that the ICE claims would serve to send an unequivocal signal to the whole world that the EU will not reward territorial aggression with trade benefits.

In which territories will the rule impact, if approved?

A key point in all of this lies in the fact that the law promoting popular initiative is general in nature and is not limited to banning trade with a specific country or area, but applies to any illegally occupied territory. However, it should be clarified that this ICE does not call for an end to all trade with the occupied territories, but to that which benefits the illegal settlements of the occupiers.

However, the main occupied territories with which the EU has trade relations are Palestine and Western Sahara. However, ACAPS and NOVACT open the possibility that EU trade with Tibet and Hong Kong could be considered as trade with occupied territories.

They also point out that when the territories seized in Ukraine by Russia in the context of the current conflict have been defined, it is likely that areas such as Crimea or the invaded and occupied Ukrainian regions may be part of the scope of action of the norm that the ICE wants to promote.

In any case, they agree, "a fundamental issue to be taken into account in all cases is the right of self-determination of the occupied peoples and the call they make against trade and the plunder of their products in the international market" .

An initiative with challenges ahead

Getting an ICE to thrive is not easy. Since the adoption and entry into force of this legal instrument in April 2011, the European Commission (EC) has registered a total of eighty-four initiatives, and only six have reached the required number of headings and have been presented to the European executive.

Sonia Herrero and Lina García González identify as the main obstacles the gathering of the necessary signatures for each state, taking into account that the ICE imposes quotas per country that must be complied with. At the same time, they see political will as a second obstacle, "permanently influenced by the desire for business and lobbying and the pressure exerted by the occupying states," they recall.

Finally, they emphasize that, in the event that the required number of signatures required to give the green light to the ICE can be gathered and that it enters the European Parliament, it will be essential that there be a strong political commitment on the part of the European institutions. of not altering the content of the signed text.

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