EU foreign policy chief wants settlement goods labeled

Despite Cartherine Ashton’s letter, Europe unlikely to ban West Bank products, EU official tells Times of Israel

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

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Jerusalem on October 24, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Jerusalem on October 24, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The European Union is intensifying its efforts toward labeling Israeli goods produced beyond the pre-1967 lines — in the Golan Heights, and across the so-called Green Line in east Jerusalem and the West Bank — as not having originated in Israel.

The move could be a precursor to a ban on such products, though insiders do not consider this likely in the foreseeable future.

In a new letter to the foreign ministries of the 27 member states, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for the full implementation of existing EU legislation according to which products from West Bank settlements and the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem do not receive the same treatment as products from areas the EU recognizes as sovereign Israeli territory.

To date, the existing EU legislation — designed to express the union’s frustration over Israel’s settlement policies and the stalemate in the peace process — has not been implemented. Ashton’s letter marks a significant push within the EU to label settlement products as such. A ban on such products, a possible next step, is unlikely to be put in effect any time soon, Israeli and EU sources said.

“The EU and its members states have a clear position on settlement activities in the occupied territories. Closely linked to this is the question of products imported into the EU originating beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders and their correct labeling on the EU market,” Ashton wrote in text of the letter quoted by Maariv on Friday.

Some EU members states have already introduced voluntary national guidelines on the labeling of such products and others are currently planning to do so, Ashton wrote. “An increasing number of member states” have been calling to formulate and implement EU guidelines “in a coherent manner,” she added.

An EU official in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel on Friday that Ashton was not calling for a ban of settlement products but wanted to reiterate a commitment to a recent EU foreign ministers’ decision “to ensure the full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation applicable to settlement products.” Her letter “conforms entirely to the spirit and language of those conclusions,” the official said, adding that it is Ashton’s job “to coordinate action in this regard.”

The official further noted that EU has not discussed any measures aimed at banning imports from settlements. “On the contrary, ensuring correct implementation of relevant legislation on labeling could assuage pressures to ban settlement products and help to avoid a boycott of all Israeli goods.”

The EU does not recognize the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967, as Israeli territory, and products from these areas therefore do not benefit from preferential trade arrangements between Israel and EU.

In recent months and weeks, several reports suggested the EU was planning to label and perhaps ban Israeli products that originate beyond the Green Line. This week, consuls general representing the EU in the Palestinian territories recommended that the union curb trade with Israelis located beyond the Green Line and cease financial support for them.

In a new report sent to Brussels and foreign ministries in the 27 member states, the consuls general, who are stationed in East Jerusalem and Ramallah, called on the EU to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions including foreign direct investments, from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services,” Haaretz reported Wednesday.

However, the EU’s ambassador in Israel, Andrew Standley, told The Times of Israel last month that the imposition of sanctions against Israel required a unanimous decision of the 27 member states and was therefore unlikely. “The EU is opposed to boycotts. This is not the way we operate in terms of our international relations,” he said.

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