EU Adopting Guidelines For Labeling Israeli Settlement Products

Israel West Bank Middle East Settlements
A worker carries boxes containing wine bottles for export at Shiloh Wineries, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah. New EU guidelines state that the words "product of Israel" can no longer be used on anything sold in Europe that has been produced by Israeli businesses based in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. Reuters/Baz Ratner

The European Commission has adopted new guidelines for the labeling of products from Israeli settlements that are sold in the European Union, eliciting the ire of the Israeli government and prompting the Foreign Ministry to summon the EU's envoy to Israel.

The move, that was announced on Wednesday, centers on Israeli producers from the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank is not recognized by the European Union and Israeli settlements there are deemed illegal under international law.

The guidelines require Israeli producers to label farm and cosmetic goods as originating from a settlement if they are to be exported and sold within the EU. This development will create a clear distinction between products made in Israel's internationally-recognized borders and the Israeli settlements—when those products are sold to European consumers.

The guidelines dictate that the words "product of Israel" should not be applied to anything produced by Israeli businesses based in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. If an Israeli producer refuses to label the correct products with the word "settlement [or] its equivalent" then EU retailers have the right to refuse to sell the product.

A European Commission source, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said that the move was purely "a technical measure, not a political one."

However, the Israeli Foreign Ministry condemned the new guidelines as "discriminatory" and said they may have implications for Israel-EU relations and that it was an "exceptional move" at a time when Israel is "confronting a wave of terrorism."

"The claim that this is a technical matter is cynical and baseless," a statement issued by Ministry read. "Product labeling does not advance any political process between Israel and the Palestinians. The opposite is the case—it is bound to reinforce the PA's refusal to conduct direct negotiations with Israel, negotiations that the EU claims to support."

European ministers have been shaping the new guidelines for almost three years. A number of EU member states requested the guidelines in 2013 and again in April after work on the issue froze during U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks last year. Three EU member countries—Britain, Denmark and Belgium—already issue their own guidelines for the labeling of products from Israeli settlements within the Palestinian territories.

Ahead of the labeling move, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that the new guidelines represented "disguised anti-Semitism." Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that the EU's envoy to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, had been summoned for a meeting in Jerusalem.

International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the new guidelines and said that other states should follow the EU's example. "Labeling products produced in Israeli settlements gives businesses and consumers the information they need to avoid supporting industries that contribute to violations of human rights," HRW's country director for Israel and the Palestinian Territories Sari Bashi tells Newsweek.

Earlier this year, the Israeli Finance Ministry released a report that estimated Israel would stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs every year if the EU implemented a full boycott of products made in West Bank settlements.

It warned that such a boycott would affect 1 percent of Israeli products, resulting in the loss of approximately $339,000 from the economy and 1,800 jobs. This only represents 0.2 percent of Israel's GDP but trade from settlements carries symbolic value for Israel.