Labeling products made in West Bank settlements is consumer protectionism, European Union Ambassador to Israel Andrew Standley told reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday, as he defended the measure against charges that it amounted to a boycott.



“This is a consumer protection issue first and foremost,” Standley said.

“Consumers should have the confidence that what they buy is correctly labeled, according to existing EU rules.”

The European Union is working on legal guidelines to help member states looking to place consumer labels on West Bank products understand how to make use of already existing legislation.

Israel opposes such labeling, which it says unfairly singles out these products.

Opponents of the measure have charged that it is a form of boycott. The products are already marked with codes that alert European customs officials not to include them in the tariff-free trade understanding with Israel.

“It is important to emphasize that, indeed, it is not a boycott,” Standley said. “At no time, at no stage, has anyone called for settlement products to be prohibited from entering the EU.”

He added that proper labeling can combat boycotts of Israeli products by people who fear that they are actually from West Bank settlements.

European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor sent a letter this week to all EU member states asking them not to label the settlement products.

This is a discriminatory action that diverts attention away from the peace process, he wrote, adding that it also harms Palestinian workers employed by many of these companies.

It is concerning, Kantor noted, that the EU can unite to act against Israel on the issue of West Bank settlements but has failed to find consensus on classifying Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

“While there is a consensus and movement on the labeling issue, there appears to be little movement on the goal of proscribing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization within the European Union,” he wrote.

Standley explained that, with 27 diverse nations, it was hard to find unity on the topic. He noted that it was possible to find consensus on the issue of labeling West Bank settlement products, because the legislation already exists and does not need a vote.

“At the political level, what has happened is that twice during the course of 2012, the EU foreign ministers drew attention to the urgent need to ensure that existing EU rules and legislation on consumer protection, the labeling of products, should be implemented correctly,” Standley said.

“It has been given additional political prominence by the fact that the foreign ministers of the EU member states have twice in 2012 called for this issue to be urgently and immediately implemented.”

On the larger issue of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Standley said he was hopeful that US Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Israel on Thursday for his fifth visit in three months, will be able to rekindle the talks, which have been largely frozen since December 2008.

The EU supports Kerry’s efforts, Standley stated.

“Not only has the EU expressed its clear political support publicly, but also in its [private] contact with the Israeli and Palestinian sides,” he added.

“That has also been accompanied by the continuation of significant levels of economic assistance provided by the EU, which are a key element in creating conditions, especially on the Palestinian side in terms of institution-building,” Standley continued.

“We are hopeful that the hard work and all the time that has been invested by Secretary Kerry over the past few weeks and months will bear its fruits in the coming days.”

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