EU moves forward with plans to sanction products made in Israeli settlements

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Momentum has been building in Europe for a ban on settlement products, and Der Spiegel reports EU officials are still on a “confrontation course” with Israel:

Israel held parliamentary elections on Jan. 22 and is now in the process of forming a new coalition government to be led by Netanyahu. Although the coalition will include the liberal parties in the political center, politicians representing settlers will also have a strong voice in the new government. This configuration is diminishing the hopes of politicians in Berlin, Brussels and Washington who were eager to revive the comatose Middle East peace process.

Confrontation Course

This has prompted the European Union officials to move forward with planning that will put them on a confrontation course with Israel. The main issue is settlement policies. At a meeting in December, the foreign ministers of the EU’s 27 member states reiterated “their commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products.” In other words, they intend to prohibit the sale of goods produced in the occupied territories — or at least as long as they are falsely labelled.

Sanctions against products from the settlements would be a major blow to the Israeli economy. Each year, the settlers export some €220 million worth of goods to Europe, whereas the comparable figure for the Palestinians is a mere €15 million. Israel has accordingly reacted very negatively to the plans in Brussels. In a response to the plans, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin argued that there are territorial disputes all over the world. “If this kind of labelling regulation is not universal, and seeks to single out one place exclusively, namely Israel,” it said, “then this measure will be inherently iniquitous and discriminatory by nature, and it should be treated as such.”

Such charges have not been intimidating to officials in Brussels. Employees of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU diplomatic service ushered in by the Treaty of Lisbon, recently sifted through the entire corpus of EU legislation in order to determine which directives and regulations could be cited in efforts to ban settler-made products. The list of applicable legislation, which SPIEGEL has obtained, shows that the lion’s share of potentially banned products involves foodstuffs.

Here are some examples of what EU investigators have found:

For example, European Council Regulation 1234/2007 sets rules “on specific provisions for certain agricultural products,” including wine. Among the product information that must be declared is origin. But, in practice, the law is constantly violated.

Council Regulation 479/2008 stipulates who is responsible for monitoring that wine is properly labelled. Article 62 says: “The competent authorities of the Member States shall take measures to ensure that a product referred to in Article 59(1)” — including wine and related grapevine products — “not labelled in conformity with this Chapter is not placed on, or is withdrawn from, the market.”

The red wine from the Golan Heights sold in the Galeria Kaufhof is imported to Germany by Champagner und Wein Distributionsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, a company based in the northern German state of in Schleswig-Holstein. But the state’s ministry responsible for agriculture doesn’t see any reason to take action. A ministry spokeswoman says that since Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor has already provided a document confirming the origin of the wine, there is no deception in the matter.

The EU member states also rely on the information supplied by Israeli exporters when it comes to fruit and vegetables. It is difficult to verify precisely where an orange or olive has been harvested. Right now, one of the main things EU officials are looking into are dates that are grown by Israeli settlers in the occupied Jordan Valley.

Products from Israeli cosmetics firm Ahava are also the subject of dispute. The company produces creams and shower gels that contain minerals from the Dead Sea. The products’ packaging includes the details, “Dead Sea Laboratories. Israel.” In truth, the products are manufactured at the edge of the Dead Sea in the occupied West Bank.

Read the entire report here.

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