Israel briefly suspends diplomatic dialogue with the EU to protest labeling

Netanyahu: Europe should be ashamed of itself; Erekat: this is the first step toward total boycott of Israeli settlements.

Netanyahu: The European Union should be ashamed of itself
Jerusalem suspended diplomatic dialogue with the EU for a few weeks to strongly protest Brussel’s decision to publish legislation guidelines that allow member states to place consumer labels “Not made in Israel” on products produced over the Green Line.
In the evening, the Foreign Ministry met with EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen and condemned the discriminatory decision, which it said reflected the double standard by which the EU treats Israel.
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“During the meeting, Foreign Ministry representatives informed the ambassador that because of the recent EU decision, Israel is suspending its diplomatic dialogue with the EU in various forums in which it has meetings scheduled in the coming weeks,” the ministry stated.
Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon later clarified that the decision pertained mostly to Palestinian and human rights issues, but that all other bilateral dialogue – particularly in the areas of science, education, culture and agriculture – would continue.
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Although there are hundreds of territorial conflicts in the world, Israel is the only place the EU has produced legislative guidelines for such labels.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the EU should be “ashamed of itself,” as he lashed out against the decision before leaving Washington to return to Israel.
This “singles out Israel and not the 200 other conflicts around the world,” Netanyahu said.
“The EU has decided to label only Israel, and we are not prepared to accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side that is being attacked by terrorism. The Israeli economy is strong and will withstand this; those who will be hurt will be those Palestinians who work in Israeli factories,” he said.
The ministry added that “product labeling strengthens the radical elements advocating a boycott against Israel and denying Israel’s right to exist.
“It does not advance any political process between Israel and the Palestinians. The opposite is the case – it is bound to reinforce the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to conduct direct negotiations with Israel, negotiations that the EU claims to support,” the ministry said.
According to an EU source, Faaborg-Andersen told the ministry that the move is a “technical matter” that is not related to the peace process and added that it would not constrain relations with Israel.
PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the labeling was a “significant move toward a total boycott of Israeli settlements, which are built illegally on occupied Palestinian lands.”
He added that “the EU has once again moved from the level of statements to taking concrete policy decisions. We believe that more actions are necessary to hold Israel accountable for the crimes it continues to commit against the land and people of Palestine.”
Earlier in the day Faaborg-Andersen held a long and frank conversation at the office of Media Central, in which he insisted: “This is not a boycott.”
“How can it be a boycott, if the products can come onto the market?” he asked.
He explained that the move did not prevent the marketing of the products in Europe and in some cases could even improve sales, because there are consumers who would be more inspired to buy the items once they knew they were made in West Bank settlements.
“The EU is against sanctions, against boycotting, against the isolation of Israel, and therefore the measures that we have taken are all based on existing legislation,” he said.
This is about letting the consumer know the product’s correct place of origin, he said.
The label for these products cannot state that it is “made in Israel,” because the EU does not recognize that the areas over the pre-1967 lines – such as east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights – are part of Israel,” Faaborg-Andersen said.
Imports from these areas make up only a fraction of Israel’s trade with the EU, which amounted to €30 billion in 2014. Settlement products were only 1.3 percent of that sum, he added.
“This will not affect trade relations with the EU,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the EU’s political arm, the European Commission, issued the guidelines that have been in the works since 2012.
It clarified what has been Brussel’s long-standing position: “The European Union, in line with international law, does not recognize 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 legal status under domestic Israeli law.”
It added that it would change this understanding only if the parties to the Middle East peace process agreed upon new borders for both states.
In spite of what EU officials stated earlier, the commission said the aim of the labeling was also “to ensure the respect of the union positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the nonrecognition by the union of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.”
The guidelines left the decision regarding placing consumer labels on products to member states.
Labeling is mandatory, the commission said, for fresh fruit, vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs, poultry, organic produce and cosmetics.
For packaged food and other products, it is voluntary, unless its omission misleads the consumer into believing that the product was produced in Israel.
The commission provided examples of appropriate labels and stressed that it is important to distinguish between the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
For the latter, the label should read, “Product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement).”
For the former it should say, “Product from West Bank (Israeli settlement),” unless it is from the Palestinian territories, in which case it should say “product from West Bank (product from Palestine)” or “Product from West Bank (Palestinian product).” It could also say, “Product from Gaza (Palestinian product)” or “(product from Palestine).”
The commission noted that this designation “shall not be construed as recognition of a state of Palestine.”
The United Kingdom, Denmark and Brussels already place consumer labels on products from over the pre-1967 lines.
Many other member states have waited for the guidelines before taking action.
Since 2003, the EU has placed numerical codes on products from over the pre-1967 lines, so that custom officials would know not to include those items in the EU’s Free Trade Agreement with Israel, which is limited to areas within the Green Line. But these guidelines mark the first time that consumers will also have that information.
The issue was first raised by European foreign ministers at a time when the peace process was frozen. Work on the guidelines was suspended in 2013 at the request of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was brokering a nine-month period of negotiations that ended in failure in April 2014.
In the absence of a renewed peace process, European foreign ministers asked EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the European Commission to push forward on publication of the guidelines.
Jurgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union factions in the German Bundestag, called the EU measure a stigma on Israel.
“In view of the background of a movement hostile to Israel, which seeks to boycott products from the settlements, the EU measure is false. It is very likely that the EU’s measure will be a campaign hostile to Israel,” he said.
He added that the European Commission’s decision will not serve consumer protection but, “rather prove to be a stigmatization.”
Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report.