Think About It: Our surreal reaction to the new European guidelines

Netanyahu’s reaction to the new guidelines was “shame on you” (you being Europe).

EU Commission approves Israeli 'settlement' product guidelines (Illustrative picture)‏ (photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)
EU Commission approves Israeli 'settlement' product guidelines (Illustrative picture)‏
(photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)
On November 11 the EU issued guidelines with regard to products originating in territories that Israel occupied in June 1967:
“1. The EU, 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.
“2. The application of existing Union legislation on indication of origin of products to products originating in Israeli-occupied territories has been the subject of notices or guidance adopted by the relevant authorities of several Member States. There is indeed a demand for clarity ...about existing Union legislation on origin information of products from Israeli-occupied territories. The aim is also to ensure the respect of Union positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the non-recognition by the Union of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967. This notice also aims at maintaining open and smooth trade, is not hindering trade flows and should not be construed to do so.
“5. When the indication of origin of the product in question is explicitly required by the relevant provisions of Union law, it must be correct and not misleading for the consumer....
“7. Since the Golan Heights and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) are not part of the Israeli territory according to international law, the indication ‘product from Israel’ is considered to be incorrect and misleading in the sense of the referenced legislation....”
I have deliberately quoted from the guidelines at some length because I believe that given what these guidelines actually say, Israel’s reaction has been exaggerated, to the point of being hysterical and even surreal.
Netanyahu’s reaction to the new guidelines was “shame on you” (you being Europe). He added that the main victims of such a policy will be Palestinians who work in Israeli enterprises in the territories, and that the fact that Europe singled out Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians out of “200 other conflicts around the world” for such treatment resulted from hypocrisy and double standards.
Why Europe should be ashamed of itself in this case is not clear. Europe (like the United States) has been consistent in its refusal to recognize Israel’s sovereignty in the territories it occupied (conquered or liberated) in June 1967, and the fact that in the past it made do with words rather than actions doesn’t change the basic facts.
All of Israel’s efforts in the last 48 years to change the position of Europe and the United States on this issue have failed, and Netanyahu wagging his finger at them now is simply pathetic. Israel knows exactly what it has to do in order to change the European and American position, and if it chooses not to do so (and it certainly has the right to decide what it wants to do), then it should accept the consequences. And let us be honest: if the consequences are having to indicate the exact origin of products, dayenu.
The argument about the Palestinian workers is embarrassing.
It is the same argument used by the South Africans in the apartheid years against the boycott of South African products, except that in our case we are not talking of a declared boycott, and if the Palestinians workers feel that they are being wronged, let them speak for themselves.
The fact is that most Palestinians would be happier if Jewish enterprises were replaced by Palestinian ones, which is also what the Europeans are talking about when they call for an end of the Israeli occupation.
As to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians being singled out from “200 other conflicts around the world,” first of all, even if there are 200 ongoing conflicts around the world, only a few involve states occupying foreign territories and trying to change the demographic reality through settlement. Yes, the Soviet Union did that for decades, and in 1990 Russia voluntarily left many of the occupied states, but recently reoccupied the Ukrainian Crimea (a majority of whose population, even before the occupation, was Russian).
China is another culprit with regard to Tibet and many other territories which it has systematically colonized.
Turkey occupied northern Cyprus, and around 100,000 settlers from Turkey are said to have joined the indigenous Turkish population. There are a few more examples, but most of them are third world countries, to which we certainly have no interest to be compared.
Of all the countries on the list which Israeli spokesmen and journalists mention as being in a similar situation to Israel in this respect, only Turkey is, like Israel, a member of the OECD, which prides itself on its democratic and international law principles. Israel joined the OECD in 2010, after it was called upon to prove its commitment to democratic and various international law principles (I participated in the preparation of some of the relevant documents). Turkey was one of the founders of the OECD in 1961, and probably would not be admitted to the organization if it were to request to join today.
But the Turkish example is not relevant in the current context. First of all, the products of northern Turkish Cyprus are all marked as such, and given the fact that only southern Greek Cyprus is a member of the EU, and northern Cyprus is not recognized by anyone but Turkey, the situation is very different to that of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Secondly, northern Cyprus broke away from the united Cyprus after an unsuccessful attempt between 1960 and 1974 to establish a truly binational state (in the constitutional rather than demographic sense). Though Turkey’s unilateral move in 1974 was condemned by everyone, what it attained in practice – a two-state solution – would certainly be welcomed by Europe if it were applied to the Jews and Palestinians in Israel/Palestine, even by force. But what Israel is doing is the exact opposite.
Finally a word about the statement by deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said that those who call for a boycott of products from the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria are delegitimizing Israel. First of all, the EU is not calling for the boycotting of products from these territories, but only having them labeled as such. Second, there is no delegitimization of Israel in this act – just of Israel’s occupation of territories that the Europeans (and everyone else) claim are not part of Israel under international law.
In short, if anyone thinks that Israel’s official reaction to the new guidelines are going to benefit Israel in any way, he ought to do some rethinking. In my opinion this reaction makes us look like a bunch of fools.
In fact I would argue that the guidelines may be viewed as a useful tool in the fight against the call of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for a complete boycott of Israel, by enabling the majority of Europeans, who wholeheartedly support Israel’s right to exist in security but reject its occupation of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, to avoid purchasing products from Jewish settlements in these territories, but to continue to purchase Israeli products from pre-1967 Israel, until such time as Israel’s permanent borders are determined.
This will certainly weaken the appeal of the BDS.
Incidentally, while I do not have a preference for products from the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria, I certainly do not boycott such products, and believe everyone has the right to do as he pleases in this respect without being badmouthed.
The writer is a political scientist and retired Knesset employee.