The European Union’s labeling scheme for settlement products could actually lead to an increase in overall exports from Israel, a senior European diplomat said, dismissing Israeli claims that the measure was tantamount to a boycott and could seriously harm Israeli businesses.
The European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday is expected to publish guidelines on the labeling of goods made or produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which would be binding on all member states, according to the official. However, countries that disregard the guidelines would not have to fear any sanctions, the official indicated.
“Our statistics show that in countries where [labeling of settlement products] is applied, in the UK, for example, overall trade volume of Israel with that country has gone up, not down, since separate labeling for products made in occupied territories began,” the senior official said.
“We believe that people who, for political reasons, don’t want to buy products from settlements will have more clarity on products made in Israel, therefore the trade will not go down. As it has gone up following labeling… Jerusalem believes it will serve a boycott, well it’s other way around — it’s the opposite of boycotting.”
Israel is staunchly opposed to the European demarche, arguing that it singles out and discriminates against the Jewish state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “unjust,” arguing that it’s a “distortion of justice” that hurts the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
On Tuesday evening, Netanyahu met with a bipartisan group of US senators in Washington and urged them to assist Israel in fending off the EU’s decision to label West Bank goods. The 36 senators from both sides of the aisle on Monday sent a letter to the EU’s foreign policy czar Federica Mogherini protesting what they called a “de-facto boycott” of Israel. “We believe strongly that these efforts are unwarranted, dangerous, and damaging to the prospects of a negotiated solution to [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” the senators wrote.
Last Thursday, a group of members of the US House of Representatives wrote a similar missive to Mogherini, arguing that the labeling scheme promotes “restrictive and illegal trade measures against in Israel.”
In Israel, many senior politicians, including from opposition parties, have branded the EU’s initiative anti-Semitic, comparing it to yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. “It is intolerable that Israel is the only country that has been singled out by the EU for such a policy, despite the fact that there are over 200 disputed territories worldwide,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated on its website Tuesday.
European officials flatly reject any accusations of anti-Semitism. “This is an emotional argument without any relevance to the issue. It is not based on political grounds. It’s based on the logic that any product labeled made in Israel needs to be truly come from Israel and not from areas what are not internationally regarded as Israel,” the senior official said. “This is the European Union saying what is has always said: The occupied territories are not part of the State of Israel.”
Labeling goods produced outside Israel’s recognized borders merely means that the EU is implementing a long-standing policy, the official stated. “This is what the European Commission is doing on Wednesday: [it’s not introducing] new legislation, only a clearer presentation of existing legislation.”
“Nothing will change for products that come from Israel proper, whereas for products from areas controlled by Israel after 1967, there member states will have to comply with existing requirements. They will have to indicate if they come from areas controlled by Israel after 1967.”
However, it is up to the discretion of the member states to implement the relevant EU legislation. “If they don’t do it, most likely not much will happen. But 16 member states did ask for clarification so I assume this will be [at least] partly implemented,” the senior official said.
Last month, the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, said in an interview that singling out settlement products has nothing to do with the anti-Israel boycott movement but is “actually an advantage” in that it “might even improve” the standing of goods from Israel proper.
Labeling might actually be detrimental to the efforts of the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, Faaborg-Andersen told The Times of Israel.
In fact, it could be argued that labeling is “exactly the opposite” of BDS, he suggested. “Because BDS is a general boycott that targets all Israeli products, from settlements and other places [within the Green Line]. Here [with our labeling scheme] we’re making a very important distinction, saying this has nothing to do with BDS. This has to do with a certain policy that Israel is pursuing when it comes to settlements that we disagree with and that we don’t want to support.”
In that sense, the EU’s introduction of a labeling regime could be construed as “actually an advantage,” Faaborg-Andersen proposed. It clearly distances the EU from the BDS movement and “might even improve the situation for goods coming from Israel proper.”