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European Commission approves labelling of settlement products

The European Commission’s decision to introduce the labelling of some of the goods manufactured in Israeli settlements, is receiving a large cover in media. A wide range of agricultural products and cosmetics, produced in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, on the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip will have to be labelled differently, with the expression “Israeli settlement” added to the geographical origin. However, packaged food and industrial goods will not be affected, according to The Times.

This reform is only a technical one, explains Brussels. The implementation of the guidelines will be in charge of the competent national agencies and institutions of the member states, underlined the EC. This marks a first initiative against the Israeli settling policy and should be understood as a first warning, according to FAZ. The EU citizens shall be able to decide themselves whether they want to buy products from the occupied areas or not. This measure was already passed in 2012 but its technical implementation is realised only now, according to European Commission Vice-President Dombrovskis, who added that the EU is not supporting any kind of boycott or sanctions against Israel, according to the news agency AFP.

This decision is sparking uproar among Israeli in both leftist and rightist political leaders, some of them considering it as “an anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish measure.” The World Jewish Congress also joined the dispute. The Palestinian Authority welcomed the Commission’s decision, Fabio Scuto notes in an article in La Repubblica. Brussels presented this as a clarification of existing policy, but the guidelines are being seen as a way of applying political pressure on Israel.

Ireland was one of 15 EU states to write to HR VP Federica Mogherini in March to urge her to push EU-level guidelines on the labelling of goods from the settlements, with member states saying the implementation was necessary to prevent goods from the settlements being misrepresented as produce of Israel. The EU is employing special means against Israel, so it can only be described as hidden anti-Semitism, says Energy minister Yuval Steinitz. Daniel Brössler comments in SZ this is political sign, seen critically among politicians, as it is a useless act against Israeli settling policy. Furthermore, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that the initiative could affect the relationship between Israel and the EU and damage the EU’s opportunities to act as a peace mediator.

A point of view shared by an unnamed spokesperson for the European Commission, who stated that there is no change in the EU’s stance towards Israel and the middle-east peace process, according to INYT. According to Professor Peter Nedergaard from the University of Copenhagen, the EU has always been critical of the settlements on the West Bank, so the labelling scheme does not represent a new course. EU experts say that goods from the occupied territories represent only from 0.8% to 1.5% of Israeli exports to the EU, namely €154 million (€300 million according to the Israelis). Libération reports that the economic loss for Israel will be minimal and that the EU’s decision is “mostly symbolic”; “a political slap in the face for Israel.”

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