The European Union reinforced on Monday (18 January) its position that products made in Israeli settlements must be clearly labelled in Europe, despite growing tensions with Israel over the issue, but stressed that the bloc opposes any boycott of the Jewish state.
EU foreign ministers said the guidelines on labels for farm and other products, which were unveiled in November and branded discriminatory by Israel, were there to explain EU law and did not mark a change in the European Union’s long-held opposition to Israeli settlements.
“The EU and its member states are committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlements products,” ministers said in a statement.
Ministers reiterated the EU’s position that the lands Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war – including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – are not part of the internationally recognised borders of Israel.
As such, goods from there cannot be labelled “Made in Israel” and should be labelled as coming from settlements, which the EU considers illegal under international law.
Following the publication of the guidelines, Israel has suspended contact with EU bodies involved in peace efforts with Palestinians, though the government says bilateral ties with nearly all EU countries are strong.
That move appears directed at the European Union’s desire for a more active role in seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians, under EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
It also comes at a time of high tension between Israel and Palestinians, with the attacks by Palestinians on Israelis in part fuelled by the occupation and the growth of settlements.
Israel’s foreign ministry said in response to the statement on Monday that the EU continues to hold Israel to double standard, while ignoring the Palestinian role in stalled peace talks and about 200 other conflicts over territory in the world.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation welcomed the EU statement and called for greater European involvement.
EU foreign ministers blamed both sides during the last four months of violence, condemning the killings on all sides and urging Israeli to address the deeper causes.
“Security measures alone cannot stop the cycle of violence,” ministers said, calling for “a fundamental change of policy by Israel with regard to the occupied Palestinian territory.”
On 4 November 2015, the European Union decided to impose a label on goods originating from the Israeli-occupied territories.
The EU does not recognise Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, lands it captured in the 1967 Middle East war, and says the labelling policy aims to distinguish between goods made inside the internationally accepted borders of Israel and those made outside.
Israel's Economy Ministry estimates the impact will be about $50 million a year, affecting fresh produce such as grapes and dates, wine, poultry, honey, olive oil and cosmetics.
That is around a fifth of the $200-$300 million worth of goods produced in settlements each year, but a drop in the ocean next to the $30 billion of goods and services Israel exports to the EU annually, a third of all its exports.
Also potentially affected are the more than 20,000 Palestinians who work in settlements, earning salaries far higher than those working on Palestinian-run farms.
Israeli ministers have cast the EU's plans as akin to a boycott of Israel, regarding it as little different to the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement that Palestinians — who seek a state on occupied land including the West Bank and East Jerusalem — have advocated in recent years.
They have also accused the EU of double standards, saying EU labelling is not enforced in other places of occupation, such as northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, Kashmir or Tibet.
Council of the European Union
- Council conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process (18 January)