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Belgium calls for EU sanctions on imports from Israeli-occupied territories

Belgium calls for EU sanctions on imports from Israeli-occupied territories

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Belgium calls for EU sanctions on imports from Israeli-occupied territories

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo is seeking European Union allies in his push to ban imports on products from territories occupied by Israel.

The call by Belgium, which currently chairs the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU — the bloc’s intergovernmental part — comes amid growing reports of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied territories.

“With regard to the trade that comes from these occupied territories, let’s send out a clear signal … That’s why we’re looking for other partners to give a clear signal that what’s going on in the West Bank is not something we simply accept,” De Croo said in a video statement shared with POLITICO.

“We asked our services to find like-minded countries to have more volume. In our European presidency, we are giving direction and trying as hard as we can to gather countries around us — I think in this conflict we’ve done that several times and we’ve done it successfully,” he added.

EU member countries last month imposed sanctions on four “extremist” settlers and two groups over allegations of serious human rights abuses against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. But Belgium, one of the most outspoken voices on the Israel-Gaza war in the bloc, and a driving force behind the sanctions on settlers, now wants to go further.  

The controversial idea is highly unlikely to receive the backing of countries such as Germany, Austria and Hungary — all vocal supporters of Israel’s right to defend itself. More critical voices of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, such as Spain, Ireland and Luxembourg, are more likely to back Belgium’s push.

Within De Croo’s coalition government, Belgian parties such as the Greens and the Socialists have long been advocating for such a ban — but the prime minister only swung behind the proposal as the cycle of violence that followed the Hamas attacks last Oct. 7 has intensified.

“Since then, 35,000 people have died, including 10,000 children. That’s not the only reason, but we Europeans will have to bear the consequences,” he told Belgian outlet Het Laatste Nieuws. “In 10 years’ time, we’ll be told: ‘You watched and did nothing.’ And we have since seen the risk of escalation. Ships are being attacked in the Red Sea. And after the exchange of fire between Iran and Israel, we also had to hold our breath.”

The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 28.8 percent of its trade in goods in 2022. De Croo specifically mentioned dates, wine and olive oil as products whose import could be banned.

De Croo told Belgian media that a potential violation of the EU-Israel Association Agreement could be grounds for imposing impose sanctions. “Europe has an association treaty with Israel, which contains conditions relating to human rights. We have asked [the EU’s foreign policy chief] Josep Borrell to investigate this point,” he said.

The federal government has been considering imposing such sanctions on Israel since mid-April. 

The Israeli military on Monday called on civilians in eastern Rafah to evacuate as it prepares for an expected ground offensive in the southern Gaza city.

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