EU decision to boycott settlement products will hurt Palestinian jobs

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Jewish settlement construction, as seen on the Ir Amim East Jerusalem Introduction Tour. [Benjamin Chun/Flickr]

The EU decision to adopt new labeling on Israel’s settlement products is perceived as an act of discrimination which will not help the diplomatic process, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Yossi Lempkowicz is Senior Media Advisor at the Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA).

At a time when Israel experiences daily Palestinian terror attacks against its population, and as the Palestinian leadership refuses to hold direct talks with Israel, the European Union is set to publish new guidelines next week on the labelling of Israeli products produced over the pre-1967 lines, in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

The impending EU labelling of what it calls “settlement products” has been a contentious issue between the EU and the Israeli government since 2012. The new labelling is expected to be published next Wednesday (11 November).

The Israeli government views this measure as a form of boycott and says it harms peace prospects.  “We’re trying to convince the European Union and its member states that this is a mistake. It has an element of discrimination to it and does not in any way help the diplomatic process,” an Israeli official said.

The EU insists the new rule is merely providing customers with information. It is designed to help member states understand what the law is with regard to the labelling of such products. The EU considers settlements over the pre-1967 line to be “illegal under international law”.

But why is it needed to publish it now? Is there an urgency? Eleven Israelis have been killed and 130 wounded by Palestinians in the current wave of attacks in the last month, mostly stabbing attacks. The guidelines represent a bonus to Palestinian violence and refusal to negotiate, and are of a blatant discriminatory nature. Israeli diplomats are convinced that the guidelines encourage an atmosphere of boycott against Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resume direct talks immediately, without any preconditions. But Abbas so far has refused to hold such talks unless Israel agrees to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, and to stop all building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In the absence of any peace process, several member states have pushed EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to move forward with the publication of the guidelines. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is embarking in a tour of several European capitals aimed at countering the EU move that, she says, would undermine the chances of peace negotiations.

Our European friends will realise that at a time when terror is coming only from the Palestinian side, it is very clear this is not the way to promote coexistence. Israel will not accept any discrimination between products produced in its territory by Israeli citizens and unilateral diplomatic efforts against Israel would come to nothing.

Israel charges that labelling products from the settlements discriminates unfairly against Israel, since the EU does not have a similar policy towards other disputed areas around the world including Cyprus or the Western Sahara.

Over 10,000 Palestinians working in Israeli factories in the West Bank, such as the Barkan industrial zone in Samaria, might lose their jobs and revenues because of the EU decision.

A senior official of the Israeli foreign ministry, Alon Ushpiz, is expected for talks in Brussels.

The Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, like many Israelis, has repeatedly said that boycotting settlement products will lead to a general boycott of Israel. “This boycott drives me crazy. Nothing damages Palestinian families more than boycotting products produced in Barkan or all these industrial zones in Judea and Samaria,” Edelstein said.

In September, the European Parliament decided to endorse the labelling of settlement products. Prime Minister Netanyahu was in London at the time, and he levelled harsh criticism at the vote, saying Israel would “not tolerate selective anti-Israeli policies.”

Netanyahu called the move “unjust,” adding, “It is simply a distortion of justice and of logic, and I think that it also hurts peace; it does not advance peace. The root of the conflict is not the territories, and the root of the conflict is not the settlements. We have historical memory of what happened when Europe labelled Jewish products.”

Israel’s opposition has also slammed the new expected guidelines, with Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union, describing the move as a European prize for terror, which only serves the purpose of perpetrating hate and conflict in the area. “Labelling products is a violent act of extremists who want to worsen the situation here even more, and the EU is falling in the trap that they have set,” Herzog said.

Herzog insisted that the product labelling is a prize that Europe is giving for terror and is something that will not help bring about the two-state solution, and it will cause serious economic harm to tens of thousands of Palestinians who are employed in factories in Judea and Samaria under suitable conditions and who bring income home to their families.”

“My position on the necessity to separate from the Palestinians is known, but it will not be achieved with these kinds of moves,” Herzog added. 

Even harsher, Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, called the EU move a capitulation to Islamists and radicals who demand the state of Israel be attacked in any way possible.

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