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Israel suspends talks with EU amid settlement tagging scrap

European envoy formally rebuked; deputy FM says there will be no dialogue with Europeans about Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely gives a press conference on November 3, 2015, in the Lipski plastic factory at the Barkan Industrial Park near the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, on the European Union's (EU) decision to label goods made in Jewish settlements. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely gives a press conference on November 3, 2015, in the Lipski plastic factory at the Barkan Industrial Park near the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, on the European Union's (EU) decision to label goods made in Jewish settlements. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Israel on Wednesday suspended dialogue with the European Union regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Foreign Ministry said. The move came in response to an EU decision to issue guidelines for the labeling of products manufactured in Israeli settlements.

The ministry indicated in a statement that Israel was withdrawing from several bilateral forums dealing with the Palestinian issue.

“We have suspended the subcommittee on diplomacy, the subcommittee on human rights and international organizations,” the ministry said. “The remaining dialogues [with the EU] are continuing as planned. Clearly, we won’t damage Israeli interests.”

“It is very important to the Europeans to be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to hold a dialogue with us on the subject, but in light of their behavior it was decided to suspend all conversations with them about the matter,” added Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The suspension was communicated to EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson, who was summoned to the Foreign Ministry Wednesday evening for a formal dressing down.

The EU's ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, in his Ramat Gan office, September 21, 2015 (Raphael Ahren/TOI)
The EU’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, in his Ramat Gan office, September 21, 2015 (Raphael Ahren/TOI)

The ministry’s political director, Alon Ushpiz, told Faaborg-Anderson that it was regrettable that the EU took the step at a time when Israel is facing a wave of Palestinian terror attacks. Israel’s envoy to the EU, David Walzer, also informed European officials in Brussels of the measures.

But Faaborg-Andersen insisted that the new guidelines were “a small technical addition to something that has existed for a very long time: the trade facilitation between products coming from Israel proper, within its 1967 lines, and products coming from beyond the Green Line.”

He said he wanted “to emphasize strongly that this is not a boycott.”

Wednesday’s move by the European Council, which will also apply to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, underscores the EU’s unhappiness over Israel’s continued expansion of settlements on territory that Palestinians are seeking for a future state.

According to the guidelines published, the labels will need to point out that the product is made in an Israeli settlement, and not just the geographical origin.

The Foreign Ministry warned that the plan could affect bilateral ties and accused Brussels of applying a double standard to Israel, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the position of foreign minister, slammed the EU for the decision.

This move is “hypocritical and applies double standards, targeting Israel when there are over 200 other conflicts around the world,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“The EU has decided to label only Israel, and we are not prepared to accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side that is being attacked by terrorism,” he said.

“The Israeli economy is strong and will withstand this [decision]. Those who will be harmed will actually be Palestinian workers in Israeli factories [over the Green Line]. The European Union should be ashamed of itself,” Netanyahu continued.

The EU defended the move, saying it was technical rather than political and meant to streamline policies across member states.

“The Commission is providing guidance to the EU member states and economic operators to ensure the uniform application of the rules on indication of origins of Israeli settlement produce,” European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said.

Israeli politicians from the left and the right criticized the EU, with some calling the move “anti-Semitic.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said it was “a shameful step giving a prize to terrorism and the people behind it.”

“Even if this or that European has a dispute with the State of Israel regarding the status of the territory and its future, the decision to label products is pure hypocrisy,” he said.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, of the dovish Zionist Union party, called the decision “dangerous and detrimental” and said it would damage peace efforts.

He compared the move to the UN’s decision to equate Zionism with racism 40 years ago and said the words of his father — then ambassador to the UN Chaim Herzog, who went on to become Israel’s president — still rang true.

“This decision is based on hatred, falsehood and ignorance, devoid of any moral value. For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper, and we must treat it as such,” he said, quoting his father.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, meanwhile, welcomed the EU decision as a positive development but said it did not go far enough.

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