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Israeli Legal NGO Accuses U.S. of Changing Stance on Settlements by Labeling West Bank Goods

TEL AVIV – A report on Israeli television on Tuesday night charged that the recently enacted U.S. Customs policy to label products from the West Bank was an “under the radar” policy change with regard to the settlements.

Last month, the U.S. issued a reminder that products imported from the West Bank or Gaza Strip should not be labeled “Made in Israel,” in accordance with a 1995 law. The reminder sparked accusations that Washington was hardening its position against Israeli settlement activity, a claim that U.S. officials rejected.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner in January said that the newly enforced guidance “in no way supersedes prior rulings or regulations. And nor does it impose additional requirements with respect to merchandise imported from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Israel.”

But according to the NGO The Legal Forum for Israel, the original legislation applied only to Palestinian products manufactured in areas under Palestinian control and did not extend to Israeli manufacturers in the West Bank.

The TV report on Israel’s Channel 2 cited the “very, very strange and unusual” reissue of the policy, meaning “that for 20 years, the U.S. Customs made a mistake or misinterpreted the directive.”

“That’s very uncharacteristic for the Americans,” the report continued.

The Legal Forum For Israel called America’s bluff, saying that the renewed policy was not merely a technicality and the directive to apply the “Made in the West Bank” label would now apply to products made in Jewish settlements as well.

The organization accused the State Department of being dishonest with the American public and with Israel. It said that Washington has started labeling West Bank products “under the radar” and without any of the criticism that the European Union had to contend with when it released similar directives.

However, the TV report included a denial from U.S. officials who maintained that there was no State Department involvement in the U.S. Customs decision.

For its part, the Israeli government has remained silent, believing that causing a stir could “cause more harm than good,” the report said.

The Times of Israel reported that President Barack Obama would sign a trade bill containing a provision that lumps together Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories.” Such language, meaning that the bill is applicable to Israel and the settlements, “contravenes longstanding U.S. policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement after the legislation was approved in the Senate by a vote of 75-20.

He added that while the president objects to that particular facet of the bill, signing it was part of the nature of bipartisan compromise.

“As with any bipartisan compromise legislation, there are provisions in this bill that we do not support,” he said.

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