Yesterday the EU issued an interpretative notice on origin labelling for products made in territories occupied by Israel since 1967 such as the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, that it considers to be in violation of international law.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs, poultry, organic products and cosmetics produced in these areas by Israeli settlers must say, for instance, ‘Product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)'. Processed foods are exempt from the regulation.
The EU has said that the decision, which comes after a three year delay, was a technical step but this was dismissed as “baseless and cynical” by Israel which withdrew its ambassador to the EU, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, in protest.
The notice does not bring into force any new legislative rules, but rather reflect the Commission’s understanding of current legislation. “There is indeed a demand for clarity from consumers, economic operators and national authorities about existing Union legislation on origin information of products from Israeli-occupied territories,” it said.
The EU has said that clear labelling will help consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.
‘Product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)’
For products produced by settlers in the West Bank, Brussels says it would be misleading for producers to simply say 'Made in the West Bank',
“Even if they would designate the wider area or territory (…), the omission of the additional geographical information that the product comes from Israeli settlements would mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product. In such cases the expression 'Israeli settlement' or equivalent needs to be added, in brackets, for example.”
Israel’s Economic Ministry estimated the economic impact of the decision to be around €47m, according to Reuters. This represents about 20% of the €186m-€280m of goods produced in settlements each year. The total value of goods traded between Israel and the EU is €28bn.
Retailers, importers and distributors in Britain, Denmark and Belgium already label goods from Israeli settlements.
The Israeli government said it was “surprised and even angered by the fact that the EU chooses to implement a double standard against Israel, while ignoring 200 territorial disputes taking place today around the world, including within [the EU] or right on [Israel’s] doorstep”.
But the decision has been welcomed by some. A petition that has so far received over 550 signatures including from prominent Israeli thinkers, says it hopes that other countries will follow suit.
“The international community distinguishing between Israel and the settlements is a step that could help promote a peace agreement, and it will also strengthen Israel’s overall status in the world and will undermine attempts to delegitimize Israel. This kind of distinction can also serve to reduce the current levels of tension, fear and despair, among both Israelis and Palestinians.”
For products from Palestine that do not come from settlements, the Commission suggests manufacturers and producers could say ‘'product from the West Bank (Palestinian product), ‘product from Gaza’ or 'product from Palestine'.
Enforcement will remain the responsibility of member states.