Israel scuffles with Belgium over labeling of settlement goods

Foreign Ministry says requirement to brand exports ‘harms Israelis and Palestinians alike,’ envoy cancels meetings with Belgian officials

In this Tuesday, February 11, 2014 photo, Israeli workers inspect barrels in a winery in the West Bank settlement of Psagot. (photo credit: AP/Dan Balilty)
In this Tuesday, February 11, 2014 photo, Israeli workers inspect barrels in a winery in the West Bank settlement of Psagot. (photo credit: AP/Dan Balilty)

Israel lashed out at Belgium Wednesday following a report that Brussels had decided to begin labeling products made in West Bank settlements.

Belgium’s foreign office confirmed Wednesday that the country wants settlement products labeled and that it plans to increase controls on goods coming from Israeli settlements.

In a statement, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the labeling move was “anti-Israeli” and “harms Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

“It is inconsistent with the Israeli government policy focused on improving the lives of Palestinians and strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and with improving Israel’s relations with European countries,” the statement said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll, who is visiting Belgium, canceled his meetings in the Belgian Foreign Ministry and with Belgian parliamentarians in retaliation.

The decision “strengthens extremists, does not help promote peace in the region, and shows Belgium as not contributing to regional stability,” Roll said.

Workers at a cherry factory in a West Bank settlement, May 25, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Belgian foreign office said in a statement that it continues to apply international and European law, “which makes a distinction between Israel on one hand and the Palestinian territories on the other hand.”

“We expect that these goods will be labeled correctly by exporters,” it said, noting that “we have found that it’s very difficult to confirm the exact origin of products.” It noted there was no ban on settlement products.

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In 2015, the European Commission adopted regulations barring the labeling of products from areas it considers occupied by Israel as made in Israel, a decision it attributed to the consumer’s right to know the origins of products.

The European Court of Justice in 2019 ruled that products made in settlements must be labeled as such, and may not be marketed as products of Israel.

The European Court of Justice said that when products come from an Israeli settlement, their labels must provide an “indication of that provenance” so that consumers can make “informed choices” when they shop.

The European Commission said it was up to individual EU countries to ensure that labels are correct, but that the origin of settlement produce must be made known in a way that is “not misleading to the consumer.”

Israel says the labeling is unfair and discriminatory and says other countries involved in disputes over land are not similarly sanctioned.

Belgium’s move follows a similar step by France in 2016, which in a non-binding decision urged businesses to use labels to identify goods produced in the Israeli settlements. Israel condemned France’s decision at the time and a winery located in a West Bank settlement took the matter to court, leading to the 2019 European Court of Justice decision.

Most European countries do not follow the EU directive, however. Israel fears Belgium’s decision to begin labeling the products will again raise the issue in other European countries, Walla reported.

The issue has long been a flashpoint for Israeli diplomacy. Former US president Donald Trump, at the end of his presidency, issued an order requiring products from settlements in the US to be labeled as originating in Israel.

Until former secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced the new policy weeks after ex-president Donald Trump’s election loss, US policy required products made in the West Bank to be labeled as such.

Israeli policy similarly does not differentiate between goods produced on either side of the Green Line.

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