The Brazilian Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Relations and National Defense has recommended that the parliament should not ratify the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Mercosur and the State of Israel until "Israel accepts the creation of the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders". This decision is an explicit act of pressure on Israel to comply with international law, and a rejection of years of incessant Israeli lobbying, pressuring for a vote to ratify the agreement.
This decision is an enormous blow for Israel’s economy and foreign relations. It poses a massive stumbling block for the enactment of the agreement, which since its signing in 2007, has been stalled due to a lack of ratification by Mercosur member countries. The Mercosur is one of the world’s most quickly expanding markets and the fifth largest economy in the world. Israeli exports to the Mercosur amounted nearly 600 million dollars in 2006.
Israel has invested heavily in pushing for the agreement, focusing particularly on Brazil, the Mercosur’s largest economy and most powerful political player. Brazil alone, even without an FTA, is Israel’s third largest export destination. In 2005, Ehud Olmert, the trade minister at the time, visited Brazil to get President Lula’s support for the agreement. A little over a month ago, Israeli minister of foreign affairs, Avigdor Liberman traveled to Brazil to urge the ratification of the agreement.
Since the beginning of the negotiations of the FTA, Mercosur civil society summits have rejected the trade deal. On behalf of the Palestinian National BDS Committee (BNC), the Palestinian Grassroots Anti- Apartheid Wall Campaign has worked together with Brazilian intellectuals, social movements, parties and politicians to block the ratification of the FTA. The Front for the Defense of the Palestinian people and the Parliamentary Front against the ratification of the FTA were formed to back the Palestinian call against the FTA. In January a letter by the BNC was handed over to President Lula.
As a result, the Commission agreed to listen to a public hearing before the voting process yesterday.
Oscar Daniel Jadue, vice-president of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, intervened and called for the rejection of the bill. He argued that the ratification of the agreement is a violation of international law, to the benefit of a country that does not respect the human rights of Palestinians.
"I invite reflection on what would reward the government of Israel and opens of the Latin American market to a country that annihilates the Palestinian people", said Jadue.
Arlene Clemesha, professor of Arab History at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and part of the United Nations Coordinating Network on Palestine, argued against the tokenism of ratifying the agreement with the exclusion of settlement products, warning that it is impossible to separate the two as Israel has a history of marketing settlement products as Israeli ones. Instead, she said, the path to peace requires international forces to compel Israel to end the military occupation of Palestinian territory.
The members of the parliamentary commission agreed with Clemesha and Jadue and recommended the freezing of the agreement as a means of political pressure.
"It will be a small contribution, but be specific. The agreement can only be valid if approved by the Mercosur countries. As Uruguay has already approved, we will work with Argentina and Paraguay. The Lula government has been courageous and it has to say publicly that the agreement is frozen until the resumption of peace negotiations", said Mr Nilson Mourao (PT-AC).
Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign comments:
"After years of campaigning, we are extremely happy with this decision. It is a major victory that has been made possible only by large and determined civil society support in Brazil.
This decision has shown that Latin America’s democratic governments are allies for justice and are ready to take up a principled stand on Palestine, even when under Israeli pressure. Lieberman’s delegation tried to lure Brazil with the illusion they could become `mediators’ in the region if they would proof `impartial’ and backed Israeli interests with the FTA. However, Brazilian politicians did not fall into the trap.
We now ask the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority to ensure that the `No’ to the FTA will be a priority for their regional foreign policies."
The struggle against the FTA is not over yet; the project will still be analyzed by the commissions on Economic Development and Trade and Industry, and the parliament. It will then head to the senate. However, yesterday’s decision is unlikely to be reversed and has turned the ratification process of the FTA by Brazil and other Mercosur into an effective instrument of pressure on Israel.