Have you heard the recent discussion in Washington about labeling products from Tibet, Cyprus and West Sahara? I haven’t either, but for some reason the discussion about labeling West Bank products is raging in Europe and now in Washington too.

Recognizing the nature of this discriminatory and counterproductive wave, Sen Tom Cotton (R-AK) has introduced S.2474 —The Fair Treatment of Israel in Product Labeling Act of 2016 — legislation that would ensure that Israel is treated fairly. In addition to ensuring the fair treatment of Israel, the bill would make sure the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is alive and viable. If the Palestinians are rewarded for walking away from the negotiating table with a conclusive recognition of the West Bank not being a part of Israel, there will be little incentive for them to return to the peace negotiations.

The Cotton bill is also highly consistent with previous U.S. policy on the matter. In April 2004, the Bush administration issued a well-known letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon assuring him — and the Israeli people — that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

In a subsequent editorial, a senior Bush advisor confirmed that indeed this was the understanding that was reached between the American and Israeli governments: Israel would unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and some West Bank Settlements, and in return the U.S. would recognize the major West Bank settlement blocks. This understanding was reported in The New York Times back on Aug. 24 2004. The Times said that “the Bush administration … now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward.”

This understanding was not kept merely to the executive branch; the Bush letter was voted on by Congress shortly thereafter, making these understandings part of U.S. law. Experts on international law have argued that diverting from this understanding would be a violation of U.S. law.

Senator Cotton’s law would keep to American policy, would keep to previous American commitments and would prevent discriminatory and unfair treatment of Israel. It would also provide an opportunity for peace and better economic opportunities for all in the West Bank and beyond.


Published in the Washington Examiner Feb 22 2016