European Commission Adopts Guidelines for Labeling Products From Israeli Settlements

EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to be reprimanded over the decision.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Jerusalem.
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

The European Commission adopted Wednesday morning the Notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, a senior EU official said. According to the official, the notice will contain guidelines for labeling of products from West bank settlements.

Following the decision, EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to be reprimanded on Wednesday evening.  

The guidelines state that the EU does not recognize Israeli sovereignty beyond the June 1967 borders, regardless of the status of those territories according to Israeli law, and that it is interested that EU legislation and regulations reflect this position.

According to the document, enforcing the guidelines will be under the authority of the agencies within the 28 EU member states. Member countries will determine which punishments they will enforce on anyone who does not abide by the regulations. However, the regulations do require states to levy sanctions against anyone who violates them and does not label Israeli settlement products. The European Commission will retain the option of opening proceedings for clarifying violations in the event that member states do not deal with the matter themselves.

The regulations also state that "products of Palestine" that are not produced in settlements will be labeled "products from the West Bank (Palestinian product)" or "product of Gaza" or "product of Palestine.

In case the products reaching the EU whose bills of lading are not clearly labeled according to the product's origin, retail chains can demand this information directly from the suppliers in Israel, the West Bank or the Golan Heights, or from the European importers.

An employee uses a forklift truck to prepare pallets of SodaStream products for export at the SodaStream International Ltd. factory in Mishor Adumim, near Jerusalem, Israel, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011.
Bloomberg

The guidelines document states that "for products from the West Bank or the Golan Heights that originate from settlements, an indication limited to 'product from the Golan Heights' or 'product from the West Bank' would not be acceptable. Even if they would designate the wider area or territory from which the product originates, the omission of the additional geographical information that the product comes from Israeli settlements would mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product. In such cases the expression 'Israeli settlement' or equivalent needs to be added, in brackets, for example. Therefore, expressions such as 'product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement)' or 'product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)' could be used."

The guidelines will apply to fresh fruit and vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs, poultry, organic products and cosmetics. They will not apply to packaged foods and industrial products that aren’t cosmetics.  

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in response that the European Union "chooses, for political motives, to take an unusual and discriminatory step" at a time when Israel is facing a wave of terror. In a statement, the ministry said it was "surprised and even angered by the fact that the EU chooses to implement a double standard against Israel, while ignoring 200 territorial disputes taking place today around the world, including within [the EU] or right on [Israel's] doorstep." The claim that the decision is a technical step, added the statement, "is a baseless cynical claim."

"Labeling products will not advance peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians," the ministry continued. "On the contrary, it may only bolster the Palestinian Authority's refusal to hold direct negotiations with Israel – negotiations which the EU says it supports." The decision to label products, the statement went on, "will strengthen the radical elements who are pushing for boycotts against Israel and who deny its right to exist, positions which the EU claims it objects to. The latest move raises questions over the role the EU wishes to play, and may have consequences on relations between Israel and the EU."

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry said Israel has received the guidelines documents, and that experts from the ministry's legal branch are now analyzing it to formulate an initial legal opinion regarding its ramifications as well as ways to respond.

The decision adopted Wednesday is a result of three years of administrative work and discussion at the European Union institutions. During this time, the EU has repeatedly warned Israel over possible consequences of continued construction in the settlements.

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.