UK foreign secretary comes to Israel, Palestinian Authority amid row over labeling of W. Bank produce.
By MARK WEISS
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband arrives here on Sunday at the start of a Middle East trip that also takes in the Palestinian territories, Syria and Lebanon.
The visit has been overshadowed by the diplomatic dispute over a proposal by Britain to clearly label all produce originating in West Bank settlements.
In British shops, labels already mark West Bank produce, but London is now considering a new system that will specify produce that has been produced in settlements, as opposed to Palestinian areas of the West Bank.
As a sign of displeasure over Israeli settlement activity, Britain recently circulated an internal EU note expressing concern that goods produced in settlements may be entering the country after being illegally exempted from tariffs, in violation of an Israel-EU trade agreement.
London also separately called on the European Union to consider more stringent labeling rules for settlement-produced goods.
Officials in Jerusalem have confirmed that Israeli leaders will make clear to Miliband Israel's firm opposition to the British labeling initiative during his discussions in Jerusalem.
Israel interprets the British move as contradicting the spirit of Annapolis and specifically that all issues are to be determined in bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which are still ongoing.
One of the core issues being addressed in the negotiations is the question of borders, and Jerusalem interprets the British labeling idea as an attempt by a third party to influence the issue.
During his two-day visit Miliband will meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Opposition leader, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.
In Ramallah, the British Foreign secretary will hold talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
Before departing for the region, Miliband expressed the hope that his meetings will reinforce the UK's support for the Annapolis peace process and a viable two-state solution.
"I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge or the size of the task to realize the goal of a two-state solution - a goal shared by the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, as well as the entire international community," said Miliband, "It is precisely the scale of this challenge that makes our engagement all the more necessary."
Miliband was forced to cut short his last trip to Israel in June because he had to fly back to participate in an important vote in the House of Commons on the length of time British police could question terror suspects before charging them.
Miliband's trip to Syria, following his stop in Israel, will be the first visit there by a British Foreign Secretary since 2000.
He hailed an "important change in approach" by the Syrian government and said Syria's establishment of diplomatic relations with Lebanon and the curtailment of the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq had helped make the trip possible.
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