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26th Jan 2020

EU agonizes over publication of Israel settler code

  • Settler graffiti in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

Senior EU officials were, late on Tuesday (10 November), still in talks whether to publish a controversial code on retail labels of Israeli settler goods.

The original idea was for commissioners to approve the text at a regular meeting, in Brussels on Wednesday, and to publish it in the bloc’s legal gazette, the Official Journal, later the same day or on Thursday.

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But commissioners’ heads of cabinet met on Tuesday evening to discuss postponing the move, prompting rumours among EU diplomats that Washington urged Brussels to hold off after US leader Barack Obama met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week.

A source on Wednesday morning said publication will go ahead.

The EU text is entitled: “Interpretative notice on indication of origin of products from Israeli settlements.”

Based on an internal note by the EU foreign service, seen by EUobserver, it will say all EU-based retailers are legally obliged to label settler-made food, wine, and cosmetics, but that labels on settler-made industrial goods are optional.

Based on precedents in Belgium, Denmark, and the UK, the EU will recommend the labels say something to the effect of: “Produce of the West Bank (Israeli settlement produce)” or “Produce of the West Bank (Palestinian produce).”

Israel, in 2003, agreed to disclose to EU importers which items were made over the 1967 green line.

The protocol, in which exporters mark the postcode of the originating farm or factory, ensures that settler items don’t benefit from preferential tariffs under an EU-Israel trade pact.

But the Commission plan, first mentioned in 2012, to also inform European consumers has prompted fierce Israeli criticism amid concern it will prompt popular boycotts.

Netanyahu, his ministers, and diplomats have written to EU institutions and made public statements comparing the plan to Nazi Germany labels on the eve of WWII.

They say it’s discriminatory because the EU isn’t taking similar steps against, for instance, Turkish Cypriot exporters from disputed territories in Cyprus.

They’ve also threatened to take counter-measures.

David Walzer, Israel’s envoy to the EU, told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Israel might exclude EU diplomats from future Arab-Israeli talks.

One MP from Netanyahu’s party has submitted a bill saying Israeli shops should label EU-made goods in order to promote an Israeli boycott.

A second government bill says foreigners who call for anti-Israel boycotts should be denied visas.

With the EU move designed to put pressure on settlement expansion, Netanyahu has, in a show of defiance, also slated approval of 2,000 new settler homes.

For their part, Palestinian spokesmen say the EU should go further, for instance, by banning settler imports the way it banned imports from Russia-annexed Crimea in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the EU intention is to downplay the importance of the guidelines.

One source said the word “labels” has been excised from the final text in order to scotch WWII analogies.

A Commission spokesman on Tuesday also told EUobserver: “The aim is not to adopt new legislation but to ensure effective implementation of existing legislation.”

The World Bank estimates Israeli settler exports to the EU are worth just €230 million a year.

On past form, the UK code, six years ago, prompted a handful of shops to stop selling settler products.

But the Belgian, British, and Danish actions didn’t cause mass boycotts.

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