BRUSSELS: The European Union published new guidelines on Wednesday for labelling products made in Israeli settlements. Brussels said the move was technical but Israel branded it as “discriminatory”.Drawn up over three years by the European Commission, the guidelines mean Israeli producers must explicitly label farm goods and other products that come from settlements built on land occupied by Israel if they are sold in the European Union.The decision comes at a time of heightened tension between Israel and the Palestinians, amid a wave of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. The violence, in which 12 Israelis and more than 70 Palestinians have been killed, is in part fuelled by the occupation and the growth of settlements.Israeli officials were quick to denounce the decision. The foreign ministry said it was a political move designed to pressure Israel over its settlements policy. It also summoned the EU ambassador to its offices.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Washington on an official visit, called the decision “hypocritical and a double standard”, saying the EU was not taking similar steps in hundreds of territorial conflicts elsewhere in the world.
“The European Union should be ashamed of itself,” he said. “We do not accept the fact that Europe is labelling the side being attacked by terrorist acts.”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.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.“It’s an indication of origin, not a warning label,” the EU ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, said.Britain, Belgium and Denmark already affix labels to Israeli goods, differentiating between those from Israel proper and those, particularly fruits and vegetables, that come from the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank. Now, all 28 EU member states would have to apply the same labelling.
While there is no EU official wording, goods must carry the word “settlement” on the tag when sold in European shops. If an Israeli farmer refuses, a retail outlet can attach the label themselves, as the European Commission has sufficient information about where goods come from.Israel’s foreign ministry said the move singled Israel out and was potentially harmful to long-standing peace efforts.“We regret that the EU has chosen, for political reasons, to take such an exceptional and discriminatory step, inspired by the boycott movement,” it said in a statement.“Product labelling will strengthen the radical elements advocating a boycott against Israel and denying Israel’s right to exist, contradicting positions the EU publicly opposes.”Two elements have particularly enraged Israeli officials. They see the measures as an effective boycott of Israel — akin to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that has gained traction in recent years — and claim that other cases of long-standing occupation are not treated in the same way.