When It Comes to U.S. Trade Policy, Some Territories Are More Disputed Than Others

The retail giant Amazon recently agreed to pay a fine to the Treasury Department for doing business in Russian-occupied Crimea in violation of American sanctions. While the decision—and the regulations behind it—is undoubtedly just, to Brenda Shaffer and Jonathan Schanzer it highlights the inconsistencies of U.S. law when it comes to doing business in occupied territories:

In addition to Crimea, Russia illegally occupies four other territories: Donbas in Ukraine, Transnistria in Moldova, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. Remarkably, there is no explicit U.S. prohibition on trade with these regions, even though their status under U.S. and international law is identical to Crimea’s.

U.S. trade policy on other disputed territories is a similar mishmash. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued explicit guidelines requiring that goods produced in the West Bank be explicitly marked as such. The labels cannot contain the words “Israel,” “Made in Israel,” “Occupied Territories-Israel,” or words of similar meaning. In 2016, CBP issued additional guidance reaffirming this rule: “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.”

But the laser focus on Israel was curious given that goods produced in Armenian settlements in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan enter the United States unhindered. Despite U.S. recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh, [which it seized from its neighbor following the breakup of the USSR], and the surrounding regions as the legal territory of Azerbaijan, CBP has not clarified that goods from these territories should be labeled as such. It would appear, then, that some disputed territories are more disputable than others. But the U.S. government has never bothered to explain why.

Moreover, while the legal status of the West Bank is at worst highly ambiguous, the status of the other abovementioned territories is clear-cut. Such inconsistencies not only ignore the serious threats to international law, human rights, and U.S. interests on the part of Russian and Armenia, but give comfort to the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS).

Read more at FDD

More about: Azerbaijan, BDS, Crimea, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy, War in Ukraine, West Bank

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad