EU labelling guidelines revive diplomatic battle

Friday 11/12/2015
Labelling occupation

PARIS - Despite Israeli charges that the European Com­mission guidelines for the mandatory labelling of products originating from Jewish settlements in Pales­tinian territories occupied in 1967 are “disguised anti-Semitism”, Pal­estinians are convinced that the Is­raeli campaign against the move is about the future of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In this crucial battle, the Palestin­ians say they have scored a point no matter how symbolic.
“The main thing for us is that the Israeli-Palestinian borders of 1967 have been reaffirmed by the European Union, and this at a time where the Israeli government plans to double in the coming years the number of Israeli settlers on our land,” said Hadi Shebli, a senior Pal­estinian diplomat based in Brussels.
The European Commission label­ling guidelines state very clearly: “The European Union, in line with international law, does not rec­ognise Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, namely the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — including East Jerusalem — and does not consider them to be part of Israel’s territory irrespective of their status under domestic Is­raeli law.”
Therefore, the EU document adds: “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.”
For the European Union, prod­ucts originating in Jewish settle­ments should clearly carry a label specifying they were made in a set­tlement.
The political implications of the EU wording in the recently pub­lished labelling guidelines have equally not been lost on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanya­hu, as shown by his decision to sus­pend diplomatic contacts with the European Union, making it difficult for the European Union to go on with its efforts to revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process based on a two-state solution.
Israeli relations with some EU members have soured as a result of the current fight. Belgian For­eign Minister Didier Reynders post­poned a visit to Israel after it was made clear to him that he would not meet Netanyahu, who acts as for­eign minister in the current ruling coalition. Similarly, Austrian Vice- Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner cancelled his visit to Israel because the Israeli Science and Technology minister insisted on hosting him in “east Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel”.
The Israeli prime minister also condemned, during a cabinet meet­ing, what he described as scandal­ous statements made by Sweden’s foreign minister after the latter told the Swedish parliament that Israel was conducting extra-judicial exe­cutions of Palestinian stabbing sus­pects. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had accused the European Union of adopting the labelling guidelines at a time when the country was facing a wave of stabbing attacks.
Shebli said: “Netanyahu is using the EU labelling guidelines to pre­vent the EU from filling the void left by the Obama administration, which has given up on efforts to re­vive the peace process in what is its final year in office.”
Israel is resorting to a series of arguments to counter the EU label­ling guidelines and is claiming that Palestinian workers employed in Jewish settlements will be the first ones to suffer if they lose their jobs following a drop in sales of Jew­ish settlements goods in European markets.
If the Israelis are so keen on the well-being of the Palestinian pop­ulation, counter Palestinian dip­lomats in Brussels, they should withdraw from areas C and B under the Oslo agreements that make up more than 60% of the occupied West Bank including the Jordan valley and allow us to invest there, which will yield a revenue of $4 billion yearly, according to a World Bank report estimate.
In any case, one month after the European Union published guide­lines to its 28 members about how to label goods “from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967”, nothing has really been done in Eu­ropean markets. Consumers cannot yet tell whether they are buying fruit and vegetables, wine, honey or cosmetics produced in Israel proper or in Jewish settlements. Some countries, such as Germany, Greece or Hungary, are reportedly not enthusiastic about specifying the origin of such products.
“State members cannot refuse to implement EU legislation on the or­igin of products. It took three years of debate and a request by 16 coun­tries earlier this year for the EU to finally come out with the labelling guidelines,” a Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonym­ity said. “At best, countries can drag their feet but sooner or later, every­body will have to come round.”
For the time being, the economic impact on Israel of the labelling of goods originating from Jewish settlements in occupied Palestin­ian territories will be minimal and won’t affect the $13 billion yearly volume of trade between the Eu­ropean Union and Israel, which benefits from preferential tariffs in European markets.
Yet Palestinians hope the move will snowball into something big­ger and lead to the banning of set­tlement products in European mar­kets. They say settlers are robbing the Palestinian natural resources, such as land and water, and are also the main reason preventing the im­plementation of the two-state solu­tion.