A group of Republican senators have called upon President Donald Trump to change US customs policy so that products coming from the West Bank are branded as having been “Made in Israel”.
In a letter to Trump, dated 16 November, signed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (Ga.), the incumbent has been urged to reverse a policy move by the Barack Obama administration in 2016.
Israeli goods produced in Judea and Samaria should be allowed to be labeled ‘Made in Israel.' https://t.co/0nBZeEZrzC— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) November 18, 2020
At the time, Obama ordered the enforcement of 1995 guidelines pertaining to the labelling of products manufactured in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria – the Israeli government term for the administrative district encompassing Israeli-occupied West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem.
US Customs had restated the terms of the 20-year old guidelines that required products from Gaza and the West Bank be labelled as such.
Addressing Donald Trump, the senators write:
“We appreciate your leadership and many achievements in support of Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the United Nations and some prominent members of the Democratic Party are working to oppose Israel and to support the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to isolate and damage Israel economically.”
The letter, which was also sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, continues:
“While it is our understanding that this labelling policy is not enforced by U.S. authorities, we are concerned that a future administration could choose to enforce these rules and thereby differentiate Israeli goods produced in Judea and Samaria, making them prime targets for BDS boycotts.”
As they applaud the moves made by the Trump administration regarding Israel, the senators conclude:
“Your administration should continue its string of pro-Israel policy changes by undoing these misguided Clinton-era guidelines, thereby allowing Israeli goods produced in Judea and Samaria to be labelled as ‘Made in Israel’ ."
The Labelling Controversy
In April 1995, the US Customs Service issued a notice of policy in the Federal Register requiring that goods "produced in the territorial areas known as the West Bank or Gaza Strip shall be marked as 'West Bank', 'Gaza', or 'Gaza Strip'," and "shall not contain the words 'Israel,' 'Made in Israel', 'Occupied Territories-Israel', or words of similar meaning."
The Barack Obama administration in early 2016 announced it no longer considered the labelling of goods produced in the Israeli communities in the disputed territories a “boycott of the Jewish State”.
It subsequently ordered the enforcement of the dormant 1995 guidelines on the labelling of products manufactured in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, with the US Customs statement saying:
“It is not acceptable to mark the aforementioned goods with the words ‘Israel’, ‘Made in Israel’, ‘Occupied Territories-Israel’ or any variation thereof.”
“Goods that are erroneously marked as products of Israel will be subject to an enforcement action carried out by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Goods entering the United States must conform to the US marking statute and regulations promulgated thereunder,” the agency warned.
The move drew a sharp response from Israeli government officials at the time.
Trump’s ‘Pro-Israel Policy’
The current developments come as earlier in October Israel and the US signed an agreement that removed all previous geographic restrictions from their scientific cooperation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman signed a protocol effectively amending three 1970s agreements that had stipulated that cooperative projects “may not be conducted in geographical areas which came under the administration of the State of Israel after 5 June 1967, and may not relate to subjects primarily pertinent to such areas.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the move, saying:
“This is an important victory against all those who seek to delegitimise everything Israeli beyond the 1967 lines. And to those malevolent boycotters, I have a simple message for you today: You are wrong, and you will fail… we are resolved to continue to build our life in our ancestral homeland and to be never uprooted from here again.”
The measures come in the wake of a succession of moves carried out by the Donald Trump administration that have buoyed Israel but have drawn a mixed reaction on the international arena.
Thus, the US mediated what have been dubbed the Abraham Accords - a joint statement between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, reached on 13 August 2020.
It was subsequently also used to refer collectively to agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, respectively.
The accord marked the first normalisation of relations between an Arab country and Israel since that of Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
In a succession of other moves under Trump, the US on 6 December 2017 recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with the decision roundly denounced by the UN General-Secretary and some US allies in Europe including Germany, France and the UK.
The ancient city of Jerusalem has been claimed as the capital by both Israel and Palestine, with the two locked in a bitter, decades-long dispute over borders and sovereignty.
In an earlier decision that sparked global criticism, a presidential proclamation signed by US President Donald Trump on 25 March 2019 also recognised the Golan Heights as part of Israel, in circumvention of a UN Security Council resolution that nullified the county’s annexation of the Syrian territory.
In November 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington no longer considered the construction of civilian settlements by Israel in the West Bank "inconsistent with international law".
The move was a reversal of the position adhered to by the previous administration under President Barack Obama.
The Golan Heights has been mostly under Israel's control since the country seized the area during the 1967 Six-Day War with neighbouring Arab states. The Israeli law that de facto annexed the territory in 1981, was declared by the United Nations to be void and without any legal effect.