Hungary: Labeling of settlement goods is counterproductive
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Hungary: Labeling of settlement goods is counterproductive

Initiative ‘merely substitutes real actions,’ weakens EU’s position in peace talks, Budapest foreign ministry tells Times of Israel

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó speaking at the Israel Council of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, November 16, 2015 (Andres Lacko)
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó speaking at the Israel Council of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, November 16, 2015 (Andres Lacko)

Hungary is sticking to its criticism of the European Union’s policy of labeling settlement goods, arguing that it is counterproductive to the body’s bid to become a significant player in the Middle East, and does nothing to advance Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

“Hungary does not consider that the indication of origin of products from Israeli settlements is effective and timely, as it weakens the position of the EU in the Middle East peace process and does not contribute to the practical solution of the conflict,” the Foreign Ministry in Budapest told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

The statement appears to contradict the stance of the EU foreign policy czar, Federica Mogherini, who last week said that all member states are “united” in support for the measure.

According to guidelines published last month by the European Commission, goods manufactured over the pre-1967 lines may not state that they were “Made in Israel.” Rather, they should be labeled with a formulation such as “Product from the West Bank (Israeli settlements),” the Commission suggested.

“The European Commission expects all member states to comply with EU legislation,” an official in the union’s delegation to Israel told The Times of Israel at the time.

Two Palestinian woman pack dates at a packing plant on November 11, 2015 in the Jordan Valley region of the West Bank. Under new EU labeling guidelines, if these dates are exported to the EU they will need to be labeled as 'products from the West Bank (Israeli settlement).' (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Two Palestinian woman pack dates at a packing plant on November 11, 2015 in the Jordan Valley region of the West Bank. Under new EU labeling guidelines, if these dates are exported to the EU they will need to be labeled as ‘products from the West Bank (Israeli settlement).’ (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

While Hungary supports an “increased role” for the EU in the peace process, it believes that requiring special labels for Israeli products made beyond the pre-1967 lines “merely substitutes real actions,” its foreign ministry said.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó made this position clear in meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian officials last month, the ministry added.

Szijjártó declared during a visit to Jerusalem on November 16 that he considers labeling “an inefficient instrument” that is “irrational” and “does not contribute to a solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], but causes damage.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently praised him for his “strong statement.”

The Hungarian foreign ministry vowed Tuesday to continue stating its position in the various EU forums. Other EU member states have taken a “similar approach,” the ministry noted, citing “published statements” but refusing to elaborate.

In fact, few other states have come out as clearly and publicly as Hungary against settlement labeling.

While Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias sent a letter to Netanyahu telling him Athens was opposed to the EU’s move and did not think it would do much to advance the peace process, Athens never publicly disowned labeling. Since the country doesn’t import any goods from the settlements, it does not face the questions of whether to implement the EU’s directive or whether to defy it.

Hungary does import some items from the settlements, but they make for a marginal part of the country’s trade with Israel.

Last week, the lower house of the Czech parliament passed two resolutions criticizing the labeling, and calling on the government to reject the measures.

Some German lawmakers officials likewise said they deem labeling unwise, but the government later clarified that it backs the EU’s directive.

At a meeting last week of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, Mogherini briefly addressed the controversy surrounding labeling.

“We had an exchange of views in this respect with the ministers, and we commonly decided that it was important also for me to pass this message publicly that the Council and the European Union stay united on these technical guidelines on indication of origin, which is in no way a boycott and should in no way be interpreted as one,” she said.

Israel fiercely rejects the EU’s labeling policy and threatened to cut off ties with the union’s regarding the peace process. However, last week top Israeli officials met with representatives of the Middle East Quartet, including an EU official, to discuss regional developments and the peace process.

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