The EU wants to label products manufactured in Israeli settlements

A Bethléem, en juin 2015.

In Bethlehem, in June 2015. Photo credits: THOMAS COEX / AFP

The European Commission is preparing to publish “guidelines “on items imported from the West Bank or East Jerusalem. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu condemned in advance this initiative, he sees as an encouragement to boycott.

Correspondent in Jerusalem

Few texts have spilled much ink even before they were printed. Unless last minute hitches, the “guidelines” of the European Commission on the labeling of products made in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem must be validated Wednesday morning in Brussels. The document, put together by a small group of experts in order to avoid the risk of leakage, will be published in the EU Official Journal. But it’s a safe bet that Israeli officials will not wait for this formality to denounce the content.

The adoption of the “notice”, claimed in late 2012 by the European Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs was more laborious. It was rejected in 2013 in order not to interfere the negotiations sponsored by John Kerry, then in 2014 to not interfere with the Israeli election campaign. It does not, however, is the first tool that the European Union brings to translate into practice its positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For ten years already, products manufactured in the West Bank are no longer eligible for tax exemptions made in the context of the free trade agreement between Israel and the EU. At the heart of the summer of 2013, a first set of “guidelines” prohibited the allocation of European funding for Israeli research centers that have activities in the Palestinian Territories. In recent months, finally, the EU banned animal commodities and organic fruits and vegetables produced in the colonies. “All these measures are intended to establish a differentiation between products exported by Israel and those manufactured in the occupied territories in violation of international law,” explains a European diplomat.

“Boycotting products Judea and Samaria [the biblical name for the West Bank] is a way to boycott Israel “”

Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Foreign Minister

Fearing without doubt that the publication of this notice does not cause controversy, Ambassador of the European Union in Tel Aviv was quick to downplay the event. “The goods produced in the settlements can not be labeled” Made in Israel “, said Lars Faaborg-Andersen, as the EU considers this incorrect description in practice. But this is a purely technical decision designed to allow better identification of products … ”

Several Israeli officials, apparently unconvinced, made their displeasure known. Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the “unjust” and based approach, he said, to “a distortion of logic that might damage peace.” “The roots of the conflict are neither the Territory nor the colonies,” swept the Prime Minister. Others blame the EU of wanting to “delegitimize” Israel, even encourage its boycott – although such a practice is explicitly condemned by several Member States. “Boycotting Judea and Samaria products [the biblical name for the West Bank] is a way to boycott Israel,” thus renchéri Tzipi Hotovely, the vice foreign minister. Former Ambassador Freddy Eytan, who heads the Center for Public Affairs in Jerusalem laments: “The blacklisting of products made by Jews reminds us in many dark periods.”

From General view, the application of the new guidelines should not yet have a modest impact on the Israeli economy. An estimated $ 200 million per year the volume of exports from the Occupied Territories to Europe – about 2% of total exports. “This policy will only scratched our economy, but it could put many unemployed Palestinians employed by Israeli companies in the Territories” warns Freddy Eytan.

Martin Konecny, head of European NGOs Middle East Program, for its part, defended the adoption of these “guidelines”. “This is a modest and belated step in the right direction, he says. The EU and its member states must now take other steps to make the difference between Israel and its settlements. This is the best way to preserve the feasibility of the two-state solution. “Asked about the epidermal reactions expressed by some leaders of the Jewish state, he invites us not dramatize. “Israel is exasperated by the labeling of products from the settlements, he said, but this is nothing compared to the total embargo imposed on goods manufactured in Crimea after its annexation by Russia.”

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