The foreign minister of Denmark, Villy Sovndal, is urging the European Union to set down regulations that would force European marketing chains and stores to clearly label products originating in Israeli settlements. The initiative, which is raising fears in Jerusalem, is getting backing from France, Britain and several other EU countries.
A Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem noted that the initiative is based on a decision by EU foreign ministers in May that was unanimously approved by all 27 foreign ministers. The decision emphasizes that "the European Union and its members are obligated to fully and effectively implement existing EU legislation and agreements with Israel regarding products from the settlements."
According to the Foreign Ministry official, consultations on the issue between Denmark, France, Britain and the European Commission in Brussels have already begun. "Our fear is that they are trying to pass a completely political decision camouflaged as technical regulations that deal with protecting consumers. This move will be presented as a way of increasing transparency for consumers regarding the source of a product."
The Internet site EU observer.com reported two weeks ago that the Danish Foreign Ministry is funding an event in Brussels on October 23 to get EU diplomats and NGOs, such as Oxfam and Crisis Action, to talk about EU-level guidelines for consumer labels on settlement goods, with a view to boycotting such products.
"The workshop is designed to put the issue back on the agenda and to put action behind the words of the May conclusions. ... We want to make it easier for consumers to vote with their wallet," a Danish diplomat told EUobserver.
Israel is closely following the planned event in Brussels, in which the EU's Middle East representative Christian Berger is expected to participate alongside many other European diplomats. However, the Foreign Ministry cannot at this stage estimate how far the initiative has progressed in several European countries.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman raised the issue last week when he met his French counterpart Laurent Fabius and other European foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Lieberman told the European foreign ministers that the attempts to enforce the labeling demonstrate their unfamiliarity with the reality and could only cause a further undermining of Israeli-Palestinian relations. "[A consumer boycott] will first hit the income of Palestinian residents, many of whom work in industry in the settlements," Lieberman said.
Foreign Ministry officials say that if the regulations are adopted, this will encourage an eventual total boycott of Israeli goods, including those produced within the Green Line.
In 2005 Israel and the EU signed an agreement for a free trade area between Israel and the EU, whereby countries' customs services can identify products of the settlements according to the zip code on their packaging. Products originating from beyond the Green Line will not be granted exemption from customs duties, according to the agreement.
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