Greece to defy EU order on labeling settlement goods

Day after Greek PM visits Jerusalem, letter is dispatched to Netanyahu informing him of decision by Athens

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in Jerusalem on November 25, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in Jerusalem on November 25, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

PARIS — A day after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited Jerusalem, his foreign minister Nikos Kotzias sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, informing him of the opposition by Athens to the EU guidelines, The Times of Israel has learned.

According to guidelines published earlier this 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 last week.

Another European country, however, has already declared its intention to defy Brussels’s instructions on labeling.

“We do not support that decision,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó declared earlier this month at an event of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. “It is an inefficient instrument. It is irrational and does not contribute to a solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], but causes damage.”

Earlier this month, the Bundestag faction of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party rejected the EU labeling initiative as “wrong,” also arguing that it would likely be misused by Israel’s enemies and did not promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. However, Berlin has so far not announced whether it will implement or disregard the union’s directives.

On Sunday, Netanyahu announced Jerusalem was suspending ties with the EU vis-à-vis efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in response to the new labeling guidelines.

The Foreign Ministry said the suspension of ties on peace talks would remain in place “until the reassessment is completed.” While relations with individual European countries will continue, dialogue with EU organizations on the peace process is off-limits.

Despite Israel’s announcement, however, an EU diplomatic spokesperson insisted the EU “would continue to work on the Middle East Peace Process, in the Quartet, with its Arab partners, and with both parties, as peace in the Middle East was an issue of interest to the entire international community and also to all Europeans.”

The spokesperson said that “EU-Israel relations are good, broad and deep, and this will continue.”

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