The European Union has issued new guidelines for labelling products made in Israeli settlements, a move that follows years of pressure from some member states and marks a diplomatic reversal for Israel.
The guidelines set out how farm produce and other goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law, should be labelled if they are sold in the EU. While Brussels presented it as a clarification of existing policy, the guidelines are widely seen as a way of applying political pressure on Israel, which has fiercely opposed them.
Ireland was one of 15 EU states to write to EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini in March to urge her to push EU-level guidelines on the labelling of goods from the settlements.
In the letter, signed by Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, the member states said the implementation of this long-standing EU policy was necessary to prevent goods from the settlements being misrepresented as produce of Israel. The UK, Belgium and Denmark have already issued their own guidelines, but other states, including Ireland, said they would wait for guidance at EU level.
Israeli prime minister
called the move “hypocritical and a double standard”, saying the EU was not taking similar steps in hundreds of territorial conflicts elsewhere in the world. “The Israeli economy is strong and will withstand this; those who will be hurt will be those Palestinians who work in Israeli factories. The EU should be ashamed,” he said in a statement.
Israel’s foreign ministry said the EU had chosen “for political reasons” to take a decision that would “strengthen the radical elements advocating a boycott against Israel and denying Israel’s right to exist, contradicting positions the EU publicly opposes”. It immediately summoned the EU ambassador to Israel in protest.
On some products, such as fruit and vegetables, wine and honey, the labelling referring to settlements will be mandatory, while on others, including pre-packaged food and industrial products, it will be voluntary.
The guidelines state that “product from Israel” should not be used for products from the Golan Heights or the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Nor will “product from Golan Heights” or “product from West Bank” be acceptable. Instead, the term “Israeli settlement” should appear.
“Therefore, expressions such as ‘product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement)’ or ‘product from West Bank (Israeli settlement)’ could be used. For products from Palestine that do not originate from settlements, an indication of origin could be ‘product from Palestine’ or ‘product from West Bank (Palestinian product)’,” the commission stated in a briefing note. It will be for member states to ensure the labelling is correctly implemented.
The EU’s position is 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.
Correct and proper
Palestine Liberation Organisation
welcomed the guidelines, saying they would require the “correct and proper” indication of products’ origins. General secretary
said the decision was a “significant move toward a total boycott of Israeli settlements, which are built illegally on occupied Palestinian lands”.
The EU dismisses the suggestion of a boycott, pointing out that it is not telling consumers what not to buy. “The EU does not support any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel. The EU does not intend to impose any boycott on Israeli exports from the settlements,” the commission said.
The EU is Israel’s single biggest trading partner, with total trade amounting to about €30 billion in 2014, though several estimates put settlement exports at less than 1 per cent of the total trade.