Court Takes Up Bid for Boycott Over Israel’s Occupation of Palestine

Only six petitions under the EU’s avenue for citizen action have been considered since the program was introduced in 2011. 

Palestinian laborers head home after their work day on construction projects in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat on March 16, 2021. During the Trump era, Israel went on an aggressive settlement spree, pushing deeper into the occupied West Bank than ever before. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The EU’s second-highest court advanced a petition Wednesday that would block the import of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied territories of Palestine. 

Because such settlements are widely seen as illegal under international law, a group invoked the powers of of the the European Citizens’ Initiative to petition for a boycott of any goods produced in the settlements.

Wednesday’s ruling from the Luxembourg-based European General Court does not mean the proposal will be accepted, only that the European Commission was too vague in rejecting the bid.

“The contested decision contains insufficient information to justify the refusal to register the proposal,” a five-judge panel of the court’s 10th Chamber wrote.

“The commission had to explain in the present case why it implicitly concluded that the proposal … does not fall under the common commercial policy and thus cannot be adopted,” they added. 

A copy of the ruling was not available by press time.

The petition was begun in 2019 by Tom Moerenhout, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, together with six others. In addition to seeking an import ban of all goods manufactured on occupied territories, the group sought to forbid the export of EU goods to those areas.

“We are of course very glad with the ruling,” Moerenhout said in an interview Wednesday. 

“It is undeniable that Israel’s settlement enterprise is the key obstacle to peace, so it’s about time EU countries finally make sure their trade policies are in compliance with their international law obligations,” he continued.

Moerenhout contends that engaging in trade provides financial support and legitimacy to an illegal occupation. The territories recognized as the State of Palestine have been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. 

These points echo an article Moerenhout published four years ago in the European Journal of International Law.

Under the European Citizens’ Initiative, the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, must register such petitions before they can start collecting signatures. When it rejected the boycott petition in 2017, it wrote: “The Commission does not have the power to submit proposals for such a decision,” it wrote.

Since the option was introduced in 2011, the commission has registered only six European Citizens’ Initiative petitions with the minimum 1 million signatures needed to compel consideration. The petitions — Right2Water, One of Us, Stop Vivisection, Ban Glyphosate, Minority SafePac and End the Cage Age — have addressed topics ranging from access to clean drinking water to support for minority languages. 

The decision comes as planned evictions of dozens of Palestinian families from an easter Jerusalem neighborhood have heightened tensions and led to violent clashes which have left 32 dead in recent days. Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Monday at Palestinians at a holy site in Jerusalem.

The commission has not indicated if it plans to appeal the decision.  

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