Former US president Jimmy Carter has called on the European Union to start labeling Israeli products from the West Bank, joining advocates who believe such a measure would pressure Israel into restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.
“With the Middle East peace process making no significant progress, we call on Europe to play a stronger and more independent role in revitalizing peace efforts, with a fresh approach,” Carter said Friday in a statement. “The EU has repeatedly condemned settlement expansion in the West Bank. It could therefore introduce a clear labeling of products made in Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
Carter, who sat in the White House from 1977 to 1981, was speaking in his capacity as a leading member of “The Elders,” a group of former statesmen who seek to promote peace across the globe. He has been an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of trying to prevent a two-state solution and working toward a “Greater Israel.”
Elders member Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and erstwhile UN high commissioner for human rights, said European customers had the power to “reignite hope in the Middle East” by introducing a labeling regime.
“As Israel’s largest trading partner, the EU could send a strong signal by introducing clear, EU-wide labeling guidelines,” she said. “This is not an anti-Israel move, but a concrete step, supported by many of our Israeli friends, to revive the hope of a future state of Palestine and safeguard the two-state solution before it is too late.”
The EU has for several months been working toward enacting guidelines that would require retailers to label Israeli goods produced beyond the pre-1967 lines as not having originated in Israel. Several EU states, including the UK and the Netherlands, have declared their support for such measures; the South African government introduced similar steps recently.
“The question of so-called labeling is one of the issues where the Europeans just want to make sure that, according to our consumer laws, the consumers have the information they want to have,” the EU’s special representative to the Middle East peace process, Ambassador Andreas Reinicke, told reporters in Jerusalem last week.
The EU recognizes Israel only in its pre-1967 borders, and an increasing number of states are in favor of labeling Israeli products from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. While last year only one or two countries recommended that retailers label such goods, currently 13 to 14 of the EU’s 27 member states are considering similar measures, Reinicke said.
“The settlement issue for us Europeans is a very important issue because we are increasingly convinced that the increasing number of settlements endangers the two-state solution, because it makes it factually impossible,” he said.
Israel vehemently opposes any efforts to impose labeling requirements for settlement goods, arguing that such policies are discriminatory in that they single out Israel while ignoring territorial disputes elsewhere.
During a meeting with Reinicke last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin tried to dissuade the ambassador from imposing a labeling regime on settlement products.
“Labeling products is a negative phenomenon that will ultimately hurt the Palestinian economy and the Palestinians who work in factories” in the West Bank, Elkin told Reinicke. “It’s too bad that this phenomenon is being allowed to expand instead of stopping it completely.”
Elkin’s office declined to say how the European envoy reacted to the deputy minister’s comments.