The European Union does not plan to ban products from West Bank settlements, even if they are labeled as having originated from Israel, a senior EU official said, dismissing recent media reports to the contrary. Andrew Standley, the EU’s ambassador to Israel, asserted in a telephone interview with The Times of Israel on Tuesday that Brussels was merely stepping up efforts to enforce existing legislation.
The EU doesn’t recognize the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights — areas Israel captured in 1967 — as part of Israeli territory, and therefore demands that goods produced there not be marked as “Made in Israel.” Products from beyond the Green Line also don’t benefit from preferential trade arrangements between Israel and EU.
In light of ongoing settlement construction, reports have surfaced repeatedly in the media predicting the EU would enact some form of sanctions targeting West Bank products.
An article in Der Spiegel this week reported that the EU intends to “prohibit the sale of goods produced in the occupied territories — or at least as long as they are falsely labeled.” Several Israeli media outlets cited the article, yet Standley asserted that no such ban was imminent.
“The talk is not of banning products; it is just making sure that when products enter the EU they should enter under the conditions which are prescribed by EU law,” he said.
Standley quoted the conclusions of last December’s EU Foreign Affairs Council, in which the union’s member states “reiterate[d] their commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products.”
“There’s an important word there, which is ‘existing,’” Standley said. “It’s not talking about new legislation, nor does the word ‘sanctions’ appear in those conclusions. These conclusions are the authoritative conclusions of the EU’s political position.”
According to the Der Spiegel report, exports to Europe of goods produced beyond the Green Line amounted to some €220 million (about NIS 1.1 billion) annually.
EU officials in Brussels quoted in the article said imports produced in settlements but labeled “Made in Israel” fell into the category of “misleading omissions” with regards to packaging information, and therefore violated trade regulations. The same sources said that “many EU member states are simply turning a blind eye to products originating from Israeli settlements.”
The article further stated that members of the European External Action Service, the EU’s foreign minister and diplomatic corps, “recently sifted through the entire corpus of EU legislation in order to determine which directives and regulations could be cited in efforts to ban settler-made products.”
Standley acknowledged that there was “clear recognition” within the EU that the existing guidelines needed to be “fully and properly implemented” and that the “current situation does not meet that standard.”
But, he added, “I am not aware of work that is directed at sifting through EU legislation to see what could be banned; I do know that work is being done sifting through this very complicated corpus of legislation to see what the rules and regulations are with regards to labeling the products.”
Thus the “renewed attention” devoted toward figuring out to how to ensure that relevant EU regulations were correctly implemented, he said. “The focus of the work going ahead is to ensure that products that originate from outside what we recognize to be Israeli territory should not bear the mention ‘Made in Israel.’”
“In other words,” the ambassador added, “the regulations that are already in place are perhaps not in all cases fully and properly implemented. And that’s what everybody is working on now to make sure that they are fully and properly implemented.”
‘The EU is opposed to boycotts. This is not the way we operate in terms of our international relations’
The desired result of that process is to “make sure that something that bears the label ‘Made in Israel’ is indeed manufactured in what the EU recognizes as the territory of the State of Israel.”
The EU’s efforts to better enforce labeling requirements could also be understood as “the expression of concern at the political level at the lack of positive movement in the Middle East peace process” and continued Israeli settlement construction, Standley said.
However, the ambassador stressed, the imposition of any kind of sanctions against Israel required a unanimous decision of the 27 member states.
“I don’t see it as a likely probability,” he said. “The EU is opposed to boycotts. This is not the way we operate in terms of our international relations.”
Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.