US backs European move to distinguish Israel from West Bank

State Department blasts ‘illegitimate’ settlement activity, says Washington doesn’t consider product labeling a boycott

The US State Department came out in support of a European Union move to distinguish West Bank settlements from Israel proper, and said that settlement product labeling is not tantamount to a boycott.

“Our longstanding position on settlements is clear,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said at the department’s daily press briefing Tuesday.

“We view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace,” he said. “We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations.

“The US government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements, because administrations from both parties have long recognized that settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines and efforts to change the facts on the ground undermine prospects for a two-state solution,” Kirby added. “We are no different.”

The Associated Press’s diplomatic reporter Matt Lee asked if that meant the US had “no issue” with an EU decision this week according to which agreements between Israel and the EU are applicable only within the Green Line.

Kirby indicated the US did not oppose the EU decision, and said the US did not view last year’s EU guidelines for labeling West Bank and Golan Heights products as a boycott of Israel.

“We do not view labeling the origin of products as being from the settlements a boycott of Israel,” Kirby said. “We also do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott.”

In November, the EU approved guidelines for its member states to label products made in West Bank settlements, drawing angry condemnation from Israeli officials, including accusations of anti-Semitism.

The move by the European Council, which was also applied to East Jerusalem, underscored the EU’s unhappiness over Israel’s continued expansion of settlements on territory that Palestinians are seeking for a future state.

This week, the EU reiterated that it would continue to differentiate between Israel and the settlements, yet stopped short of explicitly calling for a “distinction.”

Affirming the November decision on labeling, foreign ministers from the bloc’s 28 member states declared Monday that the EU remains “committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlements products.”

The statement drew harsh condemnation from Israeli political leaders, even as the country’s diplomatic corps touted its successful effort in lobbying for softened language.

The European leaders further vowed to “ensure that — in line with international law — all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

However, the foreign ministers emphasized that this stance “does not constitute a boycott of Israel which the EU strongly opposes.”

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