Made in Jewish settlements? Europeans to soon find out

Friday 16/10/2015
EU decision is not enough but it is a first and important step

PARIS - European consumers should, by the end of 2015, be able to tell if the Israeli goods they are buying in supermarkets and shops have been produced in Jewish settlements established in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

The European Union plans to is­sue labelling rules that will “differ­entiate”, in their respective mar­kets, products from the territories and those from Israel proper.

“Differentiation” is the key word for European leaders, who are adamant that their move is not a call to boycott Israel, as is the case with the relatively successful grass-roots “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, backed by the Palestinian Author­ity to protest Israel’s 48-year oc­cupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in addition to the ongo­ing siege of Gaza.

The technical and legal depart­ment of the European Commission is finalising the rules and the list of products entirely or partially made in Jewish settlements.

At first glance, it might look like a benign, limited step but the stakes are high as underlined by Israel’s campaign against the move.

The European Union is Israel’s most important trading partner with trade amounting to more than $32 billion in 2013 according to a report of the European council on foreign relations released last July. Israel is used to benefiting from European investments, fund­ing and grants while building Jew­ish settlements on land on which the Palestinians hope to establish an independent state.

Europeans have been applying for some time a de facto differen­tiation policy to prevent money benefiting Jewish settlements con­sidered illegal by international law. But disguising the source of Israeli products and lack of visibility on European markets limit the scope of this policy.

So far, only three European coun­tries — Britain, Denmark and Bel­gium — have introduced voluntary labelling guidelines. This is why the European Union is seriously considering turning its approach of differentiating between the origin of Israeli products to a formal label­ling policy among all its members.

The European Union’s cautious approach has been partly motivat­ed by fears of undermining efforts to relaunch the peace process be­tween Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has used that stance to its ad­vantage to fight the new labelling policy, claiming this is a boycott of Israel tinted with anti-Semitism.

What if, ask some experts, the enactment of such a policy leads to banning European institutions and businesses from dealing with Israeli banks and companies? Al­ready, as pointed out by the Euro­pean Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, 17 EU members have issued non-binding advisories warning businesses of the legal and financial consequences they could expose themselves to if they do business with entities linked to Is­rael’s occupation.

International law prohibits Israel from deriving economic or finan­cial benefit from the occupied Pal­estinian territories.

Diplomats in brussels say that sixteen EU countries, including France, Belgium, Spain, Britain and Italy, have come out in favour of the labelling policy. Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ro­mania, Hungary and Bulgaria are among those opposed to any such move.

A third group, including Cyprus and Greece, has been hesitant to take a stand due to many Israeli in­vestments in their countries.

To Hadi Shebli, the chargé d’affaires at the Palestinian embas­sy in Brussels, “The EU decision to label by the end of the year goods originating from the Jewish settle­ments is not enough but it is a first and important step.”

“It will snowball into something bigger,” he said. There should be “a boycott of all settlements products. Jewish settlements are illegal on our land. They are preventing the two-state solution and therefore their products should be banned.”

Shebli said the boycott of Jew­ish settlement goods is “taboo” to the European Union but he said he hoped the goal could be reached “with the help of civil societies and European public opinions”.