The European Union is expected to issue new guidelines on November 11 regarding the labeling of products from West Bank settlements that are sold by European retail chains, senior officials in Jerusalem said.
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Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office have practically any detail on the contents of the new guidelines, which at this stage are closely-guarded and only known to a limited group of officials at European Union headquarters in Brussels.
In recent months, collection of information about the guidelines has been a top priority at the Israeli embassies in the 28 countries of the EU. But despite the major effort to learn what the label guidelines will provide, virtually no relevant information has been obtained. That, senior officials in Jerusalem have said, is because of the meticulous manner in which work on the document has been keep out of reach of those who have not needed access to its content.
The officials said they thought a group of fewer than ten people at the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU in Brussels, have had access to the document. Work on the document is being carried out in a locked room on a computer without an Internet connection, according to reports obtained by the Foreign Ministry from European diplomats.
At this stage, no one in Israel and almost no one in the European Union has details on the document, said the senior Israeli officials, who asked that they not be identified due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter. They said they have been unsuccessfully trying for a long period of time to obtain the details and added that even the most senior officials of major European countries don’t have them.
The labeling guidelines had been due to be released a month ago, but the wave of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel caused their publication to be delayed. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had not wanted to release the information while Israelis were being murdered in the streets by Palestinians, senior Israeli officials noted.
On the other hand, the Israeli officials said Mogherini is under heavy pressure from several European countries, such as France and Sweden, to issue the guidelines on settlement product labeling and not delay their publication further. The monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers is to be held on November 16, and apparently Mogherini is interested in releasing the guidelines before that.
In recent months, she has met twice with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has also spoken to him by telephone on several additional occasions. In each instance, Netanyahu has asked her to defer the release of the guidelines in light of the escalation in the security situation. In addition, the Israeli prime minister has asked British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to intervene to halt the release of the guidelines, but they told him that the die had been cast and the process could not be stopped.
A senior Israeli official said that Israel is still working to convince the European Union and its member states that this is a mistake, which has a clear element of discrimination, and which does not help at all with the peace process. "The European guidelines for labeling goods from the settlements are a prize for terror and Palestinian refusal," the senior official said. "In addition, they encourage an atmosphere of boycott against Israel. We hope that the Israeli effort will succeed and that Europe will understand the uselessness of these guidelines."