Israel slams Belgian plans to label settler products

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll, who is in Belgium, immediately canceled his meetings with the Belgian Foreign Ministry and the country's parliament.

BDS activists in Berlin (photo credit: REUTERS)
BDS activists in Berlin
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel condemned plans by Belgium to place consumer labels on West Bank settlement products clarifying that they were not made by the Jewish state.

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll, who was in Belgium on Wednesday to improve ties between the two countries, immediately pulled out of his scheduled meetings with Belgian officials.

“I canceled my planned meetings with the Belgian Foreign Ministry and parliament,” Roll wrote on Twitter. “The Belgian government’s decision to label products from Judea [and] Samaria strengthens extremists, does not help promote peace in the region, and shows Belgium as not contributing to regional stability.”

The labeling of products produced in Judea and Samaria “harms Israelis and Palestinians alike,” the Foreign Ministry wrote. “It is inconsistent with the Israeli government’s policy that seeks to improve the lives of Palestinians, to strengthen the PA, and improve Israel’s ties with Europe.”

A European Union flag flies outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 19, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN)A European Union flag flies outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 19, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN)

A spokesperson for the Belgian government downplayed the issue.

“We regret the visit of the Israeli deputy foreign minister to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Belgian Parliament did not take place,” the spokesperson wrote to The Jerusalem Post on behalf of the country’s cabinet. “Belgium has always applied international and European law, which distinguishes between Israel on the one hand and the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories on the other.

“Belgian policy has not changed. This ‘differentiation’ has existed for years and is also enshrined in the federal coalition agreement, which stipulates that the government must take further steps towards a policy of differentiation.

“The government has noted, among other things, that it is very difficult to confirm the exact origin of products... These goods can still be exported to our country, but without qualifying for the preferential tariffs provided for in the Israel-EU Association Agreement, because they do not originate from Israel. Therefore, we expect these goods to be correctly labeled by exporters, in accordance with the relevant European regulations and case law.”

For close to two decades, the European Union has exempted West Bank settlement products in accordance with its free-trade agreement with Israel. Since 2015, it has provided EU member states such as Belgium with guidelines on how to legally apply consumer labels to Israeli products produced over the pre-1967 lines in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 2019 that such products must be labeled. But EU countries have been slow to act on that edict.

Product labeling has occurred in only a few countries, and Israel does not want to see other European countries do likewise.

Separately, the UN Security Council in 2016 passed Resolution 2334 that called on all UN member states to differentiate in their dealings between those areas of Israel that are within the pre-1967 lines and those which are beyond that Green Line.

The Israeli-Belgium dispute comes as the EU grows increasingly concerned with Israeli settlement activity and its continued construction of Jewish homes in east Jerusalem.

MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) spoke out in support of Belgium, noting that it actions feel in line with steps Israel has taken.

“The State of Israel has never applied Israeli law to the settlements, and therefore they are not part of Israel,” Raz said. “The previous government rightly signed agreements that do not apply to the settlements and therefore actually marked them. It is therefore strange that there are those who attacked Belgium for rightly marking settlement products in order to differentiate between them and Israel.”

Legal expert Eugene Kontorovich said that Belgium’s settlement-labeling plan “puts a new kind of yellow star solely on Jewish products. Belgium has no rules against doing business in disputed territories anywhere else in the world – because they know that such activity is not illegal under international law.

“Thus the labeling and lists it is requiring is not about business in occupied territories – it is about business with Jews,” said Kontorovich, who heads the International Law Department at the Kohelet Policy Forum.

“We commend Belgium’s decision to start labeling products from illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine as per [international] legitimacy,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh tweeted. “It’s critical for the [international] community to confront Israel’s illegal settlements, which erode the two-state solution [and] the possibility of peace.”