Knesset speaker warns settlement labeling could ‘undermine’ EU-Israel ties

In letter to head of European parliament, Yuli Edelstein warns of ‘far-reaching, negative ramifications’ for prospects of peace between Israel and its neighbors

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

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein presides over a Knesset plenum session, on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein presides over a Knesset plenum session, on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The European Court of Justice’s ruling earlier this week determining that the labeling of settlement goods is legally binding could seriously hurt ties between Israel and the European Union, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein warned on Thursday.

In a letter to the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, Edelstein conveyed a “good measure of dismay and disappointment” over the EU court’s verdict.

“I am gravely concerned that the court’s decision could undermine the political and economic ties between Israel and the European Union and have far-reaching, negative ramifications for the prospects of peace between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East,” the Knesset speaker wrote to his counterpart.

The verdict, handed down Tuesday by the EU’s top court in Luxembourg, “applies a double standard to Israel and the disputed territories under its control,” Edelstein went on. “Indeed, out of dozens of such areas around the world, I believe only Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights are subject to such labeling regulations.”

The judges also “chose to overlook the deep, historic connection between the Jewish people and the entire land of Israel,” he wrote.

European Parliament President David Sassoli talks to journalists during a news conference at an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Using the Biblical terms for the West Bank, Edelstein argued that Judea and Samaria should not be considered “occupied” by Israel “as they were never part of another country.”

Israel’s control of these territories was legitimated by the Balfour Declaration, the 1920 San Remo Resolution and Article 80 Section 12 of the UN Charter, wrote Edelstein, a vociferous opponent of Palestinian statehood and strong supporter of Israel’s settlement project.

Furthermore, the EU court ignored the “implausibility” of returning the Golan Heights to Syria, he added.

“At the same time, the court prescribed differential treatment for Arabs and Jews based on ethnicity by mandating that food labels not indicate merely ‘West Bank’ or ‘Golan Heights’ but specifically that the foods come from a Jewish settlement — lest consumers mistake these goods for Arab ones,” the Knesset speaker lamented in his letter.

“By imposing this requirement, the court prejudges the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in contradiction to the longstanding position of the European Union — and the international community as a whole — that bilateral steps and talks are the only way to resolve this conflict.”

Edelstein added that the court’s verdict accused only Israel of violating international law but disregarded “the conduct of its enemies,” noting that this week Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians.

The “selective information” on which the court based its ruling “will inevitably result in a boycott of goods” from the settlements but also from Israel proper, he posited.

“In doing so, the court has knowingly adopted the arguments long propounded by the BDS movement, whose extremist agenda aims to destroy the economy of Israel as a whole in order to force it to capitulate to the Palestinians.”

If implemented, the court’s “disgraceful” verdict would undermine the EU’s ability to play a fair and objective role in the Middle East peace process, according to Edelstein.

Barrels at an Israeli winery in the West Bank settlement of Psagot, February 11, 2014. (AP/ Dan Balilty/File)

Furthermore, it is “likely to result directly in many problems for Israel’s economic cooperation” with EU member states.

Edelstein concluded his letter by urging Sassoli to get the European Parliament and member states’ parliaments to announce “their unqualified opposition to this unfortunate ruling.”

A yet-unpublished study by a pro-Palestinian nonprofit in Brussels found that only 10 percent of settlement wines in European stores are labelled in accordance to EU’s labeling policy.

The EU, meanwhile, took great pains this week to stress that it was not banning settlement goods and opposes boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

“Products originating from the settlements outside the internationally recognized borders, i.e., before 1967, have not been blocked and will not be blocked from entry into the EU,” a spokesperson for the union’s Ramat Gan embassy told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The Knesset speaker’s criticism of the EU court’s ruling joins that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, as well as of the US State Department and various US congressmen.

“Europe the other day decided to act against Israel, and to put labels on products that are made here,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “They don’t join the sanctions against Iran, they join sanctions against Israel. Unbelievable!”

Palestinian officials welcomed the court’s ruling, and urged European countries to implement “what is a legal and political obligation,” senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

“Our demand is not only for the correct labeling reflecting the certificate of origin of products coming from illegal colonial-settlements, but for the banning of those products from international markets,” he added.

The court took on the case after Psagot Winery — which is located in a settlement by the same name just north of Jerusalem — challenged a 2016 ruling by a French court that said goods produced in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights must be labeled as originating in an “Israeli settlement.”

In their decision Tuesday, the 15 judges wrote that it was necessary to label Israeli settlement goods as such “to prevent consumers from being misled as to the fact that the State of Israel is present in the territories concerned as an occupying power and not as a sovereign entity.”

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

The court further stated that Israeli settlements “are characterized by the fact that they give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by that state outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law.”

A label that merely stated “Made in the West Bank” was insufficient, the court said, because customers would not have a way of knowing that the product they are considering purchasing originated in a locality established “in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law.”

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