By ISAAC SCHARF and ARON HELLER, Associated Press
PSAGOT, West Bank (AP) — These days, when Yaakov Berg tries to sell his award-winning line of Psagot boutique wines, he encounters obstacles from every direction. As a Jewish vintner in a West Bank settlement, his product is increasingly considered off-limits.
"Not just overseas, also in Tel Aviv," says Berg, 37. "So we have big problems. Actually, it's almost impossible to sell in (Tel Aviv) restaurants."
With Israel mired in a struggle to combat growing calls in Europe to boycott Israeli products and businesses with ties to the controversial settlements, a quieter and more informal campaign is subtly emerging at home among Israelis themselves.
Israelis who may have long supported peace but also considered the settlements no big deal are starting to ask why Israel continues building there in the face of what looks like a rare global consensus against them verging on outrage.
And even among Israelis who consider the West Bank Israel's by right, there seems to be some discomfort now with continued investment in the West Bank instead of a genuine effort to address an internal housing crisis and other social ills in Israel.
Although no formal movement exists, a de facto distancing from the settlement enterprise is increasingly evident, especially in people refraining from buying settlement products ranging from wines to organic produce and cosmetics made from the Dead Sea.
"As an Israeli, I oppose a regime in the West Bank that I find illegitimate and I don't want any part of it so I make an effort not to buy those products," said Yaron Racah, a 38-year-old high-tech worker from the Tel Aviv area. "If I can't help stop it, at least I can do no more harm by taking an active part in something I don't believe in."
More than 550,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, contiguous areas captured in the 1967 war, amid roughly 2.5 million Palestinians. In 2013, Israeli authorities advanced plans for more than 14,000 apartments in settlements in various approval stages, according to the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now.
Palestinians say these areas, plus the Gaza Strip on the other side of Israel along the seacoast, should form their future state. They complain that the growing settler population makes it ever more difficult to partition the Holy Land into Israel and a Palestinian state.
Some Israelis see a big security risk in giving up the West Bank, which commands the highland over central Israel. Many religious Jews see it as their biblical heartland.
The issue has taken center stage in ongoing U.S.-mediated peace talks, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying that continued construction raises questions about Israel's commitment to peace. He and top European officials have warned that Israel could face increased isolation and economic pressure if peace talks fail and settlements grow.
Hanging in the air is the question of what happens if Israel becomes truly inseparable from the West Bank. With 6 million Jews and 2 million Arab citizens inside Israel, a merging together with the West Bank does not look much like a "Jewish state."
Some on both sides say the point of no return may have already been crossed. And nervousness over this prospect is driving some Israelis to positions that would have seemed implausibly radical just a few years ago.
Zehava Galon, head of the dovish opposition Meretz Party, said that while she opposes international boycott efforts against Israel as a whole, she refrains from consuming settler products because there must be a "price to the occupation."
"It is unacceptable. Whoever thought they could deceive the entire world succeeded for a few years but that is over," she said.