Stephen Zunes: Farr Backs Trade Bill Supporting Occupation, Settlements

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Monterey Bay-area peace and human rights activists are expressing dismay that Rep. Sam Farr was one of only 28 Democrats to support a trade bill that for the first time formally defines “Israel” as including Palestinian and Syrian territories seized by Israeli forces recognized by the international community as under foreign belligerent occupation.

Part of the “fast track” legislation to help ensure passage of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, the clause also forces the Obama administration to pressure potential U.S. trading partners to no longer boycott products made in illegal settlements or discourage their companies from supporting the Israeli occupation.

The United Nations charter and other long-standing tenets of international law forbid any country from expanding its territory by force. This is why, for example, the United States has led the international community in placing sanctions on Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea. It is also illegal to colonize occupied territories with civilian settlers. The applicability of these principles to the Israeli-occupied territories has been confirmed by a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a ruling by the International Court of Justice, which have also banned foreign countries from recognizing the military takeovers or assisting such policies through trade, investment or other means.

This legislation, therefore, puts the United States itself in violation of international law. By supporting this bill, Farr is not only siding with the Israeli right-wing against Israeli and Palestinian moderates seeking a viable two-state solution, he is rejecting long-standing international legal principles by effectively endorsing the right of conquest.Congressman Farr_Fort Ord-2

Lara Feldman of the liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now notes that the bill is “not about defending Israel at all,” but rather about “shielding Israeli settlements from pressure” and “seeking to codify in U.S. law the view that there is no distinction between Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.”

Similarly, Mitchell Plitnick of the Foundation for Middle East Peace notes how including the illegal settlements in the legislation “serves no obvious purpose other than to maintain that occupation.”

While the Obama administration has spoken out against the settlements and has insisted that Israel must end its occupation, it has refused to place sanctions or any other tangible pressure on Israel’s right-wing government to uphold its international legal obligations. As a result, an international grassroots movement advocating boycotts/divestment/sanctions (BDS) has emerged, primarily targeting U.S. and other foreign companies that support the occupation or invest and trade with illegal settlements.
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While some BDS activists have been criticized for blurring the distinction between the Israeli occupation and Israel itself, the bill blurs this distinction as well. Indeed, it appears designed to undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to end Israel’s colonization drive and allow for the establishment of an independent viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

Unlike in Israel itself, Arabs in the occupied territories are denied the right to vote in Israeli elections, are rigidly segregated, and lack the same rights as Jews. Therefore, Farr and other supporters of the legislation, according to Plitnick, are effectively “siding with the most anti-Israel elements of the BDS movement who also see the West Bank, Israel and Gaza as a single state, under Israeli rule and therefore an apartheid state.”

The main target of the bill appears to be the European Union, which prohibits funding of any projects beyond Israel’s internationally recognized borders. These are not boycotts of Israel itself, but simply actions specifically targeting the occupation and illegal settlements.

This is what Farr and his Republican colleagues are trying to prevent by rewriting trade policy to discourage other nations from enforcing international law.

th-3Furthermore, the bill says that preventing actions by trading partners that support BDS or oppose commercial activity with Israeli settlements should be “the principal negotiating objectives of the United States regarding commercial partnerships.” In supporting this bill, therefore, not only is Farr demonstrating a dismissive attitude toward international law, he has gone on record that undermining nonviolent efforts to end an illegal military occupation should be a higher priority for U.S. trade negotiators than protecting American jobs, opposing sweatshops and human trafficking, or preserving the environment.

This was first published at the Sentinel.

About the Author

Stephen ZunesStephen Zunes, a Santa Cruz resident, is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.