European Union (EU) guidelines requiring the labelling of consumer goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank will be published next week.
EU labelling of what it calls “settlement products” has been a contentious issue between Brussels and Jerusalem since 2012. The matter is considered a “red line” for Israel, the country’s top diplomat said last week, threatening to downgrade economic ties with states that implement the labels.
In an interview with Jewish News, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the EU’s guidelines for the labelling of Israeli goods made beyond the pre-1967 lines is “the epitome of boycotts,” vowing to launch a campaign to persuade the continent’s most important countries to ignore these guidelines.
Countries that decide to label settlement products will no longer be considered by Jerusalem to be significant players in the Middle East conflict, she warned.
“It is possible to work with all the European countries and give a very sharp Israeli response, saying: This is a red line. Israeli diplomacy won’t tolerate this,” Mrs. Hotovely said.
Israel is aware that European labels on products from the West Bank will not lead to great economic harm, as exports from the settlements to the EU make for less than one percent of Israel’s total exports to the EU. Instead, it is a matter of discrimination.
“Our concern is that once you put a label on Judea and Samaria, you put a label on Israel,” Mrs. Hotovely said, using the biblical terms for the West Bank.
“We see it as a boycott of Israel for all intents and purposes. We view it as a slippery slope. It’s simply a sweeping disqualification of Israel.”
The EU argues it is merely implementing a policy of differentiating between Israel proper and the settlements. West Bank goods, they assert, will be labelled but not banned.
But Mrs. Hotovely doesn’t buy the distinction. Labelling equals boycotting, she insists, pointing to the political context in which Brussels decided to call for this measure. “Europe is doing this to create diplomatic pressure on Israel regarding a very central issue that Israel and Europe are deeply divided on.”
According to Haaretz, neither the Israeli Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office have been given any detail on the contents of the new guidelines, which at this stage are only known to a limited group of officials at EU headquarters in Brussels.
Details had been due to be released a month ago, but the wave of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel caused their publication to be delayed. EU foreign policy chiefs had not wanted to release the information while Israelis were being murdered in the streets by Palestinians, senior Israeli officials noted.
The rules have been formulated under the guidance of the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and do not need to be put to a vote.