Israel has launched intensive diplomatic efforts to try and stop, or at least postpone, a planned European Union directive to label goods that originate in West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, senior officials told Haaretz.
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The three officials, who asked not to be identified because of the diplomatic sensitivity, said the Foreign Ministry was leading the efforts through Israeli embassies in Europe, and especially through its mission to the EU in Brussels. According to the officials, the labeling of the products has been the main issue on the Foreign Ministry’s agenda over recent weeks.
The diplomatic efforts began after the most recent meeting of the EU foreign ministers on May 18. After the meeting, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem received information that the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, had told EU ministers she intended to press ahead on the process of labeling goods produced in the settlements and would publish directives soon.
Although Mogherini did not say when she was going to publish the directives, the Foreign Ministry assessment was that it would happen within a few weeks of the meeting.
“There is a reasonable possibility that the decision will be made even before summer vacation starts in Europe, in August,” one of the senior officials said.
After the directives have been formulated, they will be presented to the European Commission – which is the executive body of the EU – for a vote, to give the document political weight.
Over the past two weeks, Israel’s ambassador to the EU, David Walzer, and his deputy, Ronen Gil-Or, have been in contact with the 28 European commissioners who will apparently vote on labeling the products that are marketed in European grocery chains. Walzer and Gil-Or are focusing their efforts in particular on seven commissioners within whose purview the issue of labeling the products also falls.
The Israeli diplomats are trying to persuade the commissioners to vote against the decision, or at least to postpone it as much as possible, arguing that the current timing is not suitable for such a decision.
The Foreign Ministry hopes that if it is able to persuade at least four out of the seven relevant commissioners, the decision will at least be postponed.
However, the Foreign Ministry believes it will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop or even delay the decision.
A senior Israeli official said that during the talks in Brussels with Mogherini’s advisers, the latter made clear that the only way to delay a decision on labeling the products from the settlements would be if the peace process with the Palestinians was renewed, which is not on the horizon. “We are f***ed,” the senior officials said. “We will try to do all we can, but a miracle will have to happen.”
A few days ago, Gil-Or spoke to the European Commission’s legal adviser to get a sense of how binding the new directives would be, if they are indeed published. The European official said the directives were not binding legislation, but would leave room for interpretation. However, the adviser added that the European Commission believed the directives would have a “high degree of impact” on the member states, and all 28 member states would toe the line.
The concerns in Israel over the directives to label the products originating in the settlements are both economic and diplomatic. Economically, products produced in the settlements constitute only a small fraction of Israel’s exports to Europe. However, it is feared that many European grocery chains will find it difficult to differentiate between goods manufactured within the 1967 borders and those manufactured over the Green Line, and will therefore prefer to avoid selling Israeli products altogether.
On the diplomatic level, there is concern over another serious blow to Israel’s status in Europe, and increased international pressure with regard to the settlements.
In addition to the matter of labeling products from the settlements, the EU is taking steps also that would mean a complete boycott on some products from the settlements.
Since the beginning of 2015, the EU has withdrawn its recognition of the Agriculture Ministry’s veterinary services across the Green Line. This has meant that, over recent months, the import of chicken and milk products from the settlements to Europe has been banned completely, because they are no longer approved as meeting European standards.
And at the end of June, the EU will stop recognizing the Agriculture Ministry’s authority over the Green Line with regard to products that are defined as organic, such as eggs and produce. A senior Israeli official said that by the end of 2015, this ban could expand to products such as wine and cosmetics that are produced over the Green Line.