CIFTA (not as in flour)

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When I learned years ago that Canada has had a free trade agreement with Israel since 1997, I didn’t think too much about it. After all, we have trade agreements with many countries. My first inkling that it might be problematic came with the issue of proper labelling of products made in Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

These are all labelled as “Made in Israel”. This makes it seem as if the OPT is actually legally part of Israel, which it is not. The European Union (EU) has declared such a practice illegal; settlement products must be properly labelled as such (European Court of Justice, 15 November, 2019). In Canada, this problem has been the subject of several lawsuits and court rulings, with the federal government now appealing a decision that required proper labelling of illegal settlement wines. Settlement products are actually not made in Israel; they are made in Palestinian territory. Why, you might ask, is our government using our tax monies to oppose a requirement of proper labelling?

It turns out this false labelling practice came as an aspect of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA), which includes Palestinian territory in its definition of Israel. For the purposes of “commerce,” right? CIFTA also doesn’t distinguish between Israeli and Palestinian- made products covered under the Agreement; all trade is considered to be with Israel. Does the fact that Israel controls all the airways, and all land & sea routes into the West Bank, East Jerusalem & Gaza, mean that it owns everything produced in Palestinian territory? CIFTA”s terms constitute an erasure of Palestinian trade/commerce. This is why it’s important to notice: de facto annexation of Palestinian territory is happening with the complicity of Canadians.

Needless to say, Palestinians weren’t consulted in a meaningful way and did not consent to be included as part of Israel under CIFTA.

Canadians for Justice & Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) recently published a report on CIFTA, entitled: “Annexing Palestine Through Trade”. (www.cjpme.org) Lead author Michael Bueckert, PhD., makes a thorough case that Canada is in violation of its own laws as well as international law by its adherence to CIFTA.

He argues that through CIFTA, Canada treats the OPT as if it were already annexed by Israel. Further, despite Canadian claims that including Palestinians in CIFTA will provide material benefits for Palestinians (Minister for International Trade Art Eggleton, House of Commons, 9 October, 1996) the report shows that Palestinians don’t benefit economically from CIFTA. While trade with Israel makes up 99.5% of total merchandise trade under CIFTA, Canada-Palestinian trade accounts for .5% of the total. More erasure.

This issue of the annexation of Palestinian territory in duplicitous ways has been made more critical in light of Israeli Prime Minister Netayahu’s June, 2023 appointment of far-right settler Bezalel Smotrich as head of the civil administration in the OPT. Since 1967, Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza & East Jerusalem have lived under military rule which basically means they have no civil or legal rights. Let alone a vote. Now it looks like Netanyahu has taken the so-

called legal jurisdiction from the Israeli military and given it to a civil authority. A civil authority run by an extremist, hell-bent on removing Palestinians from their homeland.

Does this mean that the millions of Palestinians in the OPT will now have the vote, given that they are in all respects governed by Israel? No. Will it simplify the bureaucratic matrix of control over every aspect of Palestinian life in the OPT? No, the reverse will happen actually.

Unless. Unless the world stands up to what it sees is clearly going on in Israel-Palestine and refuses to be complicit in maintaining a settler-colonial apartheid regime. That means we have to take note of our part in this. We need to speak up loudly and clearly about what we will NOT tolerate.

The CPJME report on annexing Palestine through trade states that Canada’s rationale for including settlement products in CIFTA is: “CIFTA defines Israel’s territory, for the purposes of this agreement, as the territory where its customs laws are applied, which includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That’s the reason.” (Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr, May 1, 2019, Senate of Canada, Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs & International Trade, Issue # 62.) Palestinians say that they never consented to nor acknowledged the inclusion of Israeli settlements (CJPME Report @ 11) in the customs union they entered into in 1994, as part of the failed Oslo Agreements. (That customs union was intended to expire in 5 years with an independent Palestine. So much for that idea.)

I dwell on these seemingly obscure details to show how insidious settler-colonialism is. Our indigenous peoples can no doubt attest to thousands of such examples of how their land was occupied and stolen, relegating them 2nd class citizens in their own territory. We can’t change the past, but we can learn about it and from it, and dedicate ourselves to justice work going forward. As the longest running occupation in the world and the only apartheid state in the world, Israel is a stark example of wrong action. It’s not just happening “over there”; our own institutions perpetuate the wrongs, and those, we can do something about.