The French government published regulations Thursday requiring importers and retailers to label all products originating from settlements in the occupied territories.
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The notification is headed “Notice to economic operators concerning the indication of origin of goods originating in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.” It states that, in accordance with the November 2015 European Commission guidelines, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are occupied territories and not considered part of the State of Israel. Therefore, in order not to deceive consumers, the regulations say it is necessary to mark the precise place from which goods originating in these areas came, and not mark them as products of Israel.
Under the new regulations, if a product comes from a settlement, French retailers and importers must make this clear on the packaging and not just name the geographical location where the product originated.
The regulations make it clear that this is intended to prevent a situation in which consumers are misled and think they are buying Palestinian goods from the West Bank or East Jerusalem.
The regulations also state that the geographical region from where the product originated must be noted – for example, “the West Bank” – and then, in parenthesis on the packaging, it must be stated when the product comes from “an Israeli settlement.”
It is not clear why the French government has published these regulations now – a full year after the European Commission guidelines. So far, many countries in Europe have refrained from issuing unique regulations for their retailers and importers, but instead have made do with the general European Commission guidelines.
The November 2015 European Commission guidelines were concerned with labeling fresh fruit and vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs, poultry, organic products and cosmetics. They are not obligatory with regard to packaged foodstuffs and industrial products that are not cosmetics.
The guidelines, published due to pressure by many countries on EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, also stated that the European Union does not recognize Israeli sovereignty beyond the 1967 lines, irrespective of the status of those territories in Israeli law, and is interested in having regulations and legislation in Europe reflect this position.
The European Commission stated that enforcement of the regulations is the responsibility of the authorities in each of the 28 EU countries. It is the member countries who will determine what punishments to impose on those who do not carry out the instructions. However, the instructions do obligate the countries to impose sanctions on anyone who violates the regulations and does not mark settlement products accordingly.
The European Commission retains the possibility of initiating procedures to examine violations if the member countries don’t deal with this themselves.
The publication of the European Commission regulations triggered a major crisis between Israel and the European Union last year, with Israel suspending contacts with the EU on the Palestinian issue for about three months. The crisis only ended this February after negotiations between the two sides.
At the conclusion of the talks, there was a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, in which the latter expressed her opposition to the BDS movement (which leads calls for academic and cultural boycotts of Israel). She also noted that marking products from the settlements was not intended to predetermine the outcome of any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the issue of permanent borders.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in response that "Israel denounces the French government's decision to implement the November 2015 European Commission's guidelines for marking Israeli goods originating from beyond the '67 borders."
"We regret that France, in which there's a law against boycotts, is advancing steps that could be seen as giving a tail wind to radicals and the boycott movement against Israel," he said, adding that "it is inexplicable and troubling that France chooses to apply a double standard when it comes to Israel, while ignoring 200 territorial conflicts taking place around the world, including those on its very own doorstep."
Late on Thursday, a diplomatic source in Jerusalem attacked France, saying that "those who failed to convene an international summit [for Middle East peace] is turning instead to a path of product labeling."