EU says Netanyahu move will not affect Middle East peace talks

Israeli prime minister suspended EU’s role in talks with Palestinians over food labelling

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: ‘The EU should be ashamed’. Photograph: Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: ‘The EU should be ashamed’. Photograph: Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images

 

The European Union has insisted it will continue to participate in the Middle East peace process, despite Israel’s announcement on Sunday that it would suspend any EU involvement in peace talks with the Palestinians.

The move by Tel Aviv, which took EU officials by surprise, follows a decision by the EU last month to label certain goods made in Israeli settlements.

A statement from the foreign ministry said it had been ordered by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to carry out “a reassessment of the involvement of EU bodies in everything that is connected to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians”.

“Until completion of the reassessment, the prime minister has ordered a suspension of diplomatic contacts with the EU and its representatives in this matter.”

Israel also threatened on Monday to review its co-operation with European Union projects that benefit Palestinians in the West Bank, in response to the labelling decision.

The European Union is one of four members of the international Quartet group which has been brokering Middle East peace talks, along with the United States, Russia and the UN.

EU high representative for foreign policy Federica Mogherini discussed the issue with the Israeli prime minister on the fringes of the climate summit in Paris on Monday.

Peace process

European Commission

“EU-Israel relations are good, broad and deep, and this will continue,” the spokeswoman said. “When it comes to the Middle East peace process, the EU continues and will continue to work on this in the Quartet with our partners because of course peace in the Middle East is of interest to the whole international community.”

EU officials said it was not yet clear what the practical implications of the Israeli decision would be, and if a planned EU trip to the region would go ahead next week.

While the European Commission again stressed on Monday that the decision to demand labelling of certain products from occupied territories in the West Bank was merely the implementation of an existing policy, the decision on November 11th provoked a furious response from Israel.

“The EU should be ashamed,” Mr Netanyahu said following the announcement last month, describing the decision as “hypocritical and a double standard”.

Labelling rules

Ireland

Israel lobbied strongly against the issuance of the guidelines in the run-up to the decision, describing the plan as discriminatory.

The European Union “does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem”.*

Announcing the labelling guidelines last month, the European Commission said there had been a demand for clarity from consumers about existing EU legislation on origin information of products from Israeli-occupied territories.

“Since the Golan Heights and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) are not part of the Israeli territory according to international law, the indication ‘product from Israel’ is considered to be incorrect and misleading.”

Under the rules, mandatory labelling will be required for most fresh food products, including fruit and vegetables, poultry, eggs and wine, as well as cosmetics.

Voluntary indication of origin will be required for pre-packed food products and the vast majority of industrial products.

*This article was edited on December 4th, 2015