Israel has won a one-month extension to ready itself for a European Union ban on many farm products from West Bank settlements, an Israeli source told TheMarker on Tuesday.
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The restrictions on the entry of all animal products, including eggs, poultry and dairy, were due to go into effect on Monday, but Israel has yet to put into a place a system for distinguishing between farm products from the West Bank and inside Israel.
“The mechanisms for ensuring a separation exist, but there’s political uncertainty about the matter,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.
Officially the EU is imposing the ban due to public health concerns. Because it does not recognize the Israeli Agriculture Ministry’s authority beyond the Green Line, it means food from the area is considered unregulated. But Israeli industry figures fear the ban could be extended to other produce and will force food exporters to shun produce grown not only in West Bank settlements but also the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.
EU officials have hinted that without adequate assurance that settlement products are not reaching Europe, they might move to bar all animal products exported from Israel. Alternatively, Israeli food makers might have to take the costly step of operating two production lines, one free of settlement products designated for the EU and for all other markets.
According to the Israel Export Institute, Israel last year exported some $87 million in processed fruit and vegetable products to the EU, out of the total food exports of $365 million. This includes goods from both sides of the Green Line.
Israel’s deliberations on how to respond to the EU ban involve officials from the foreign, agriculture and economy ministries, all of which are led by ministers from the Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi parties which support the settlements and are politically loathe to sponsor any measure that distinguishes between them and pre-1967 Israel, said the source.
In opposing the planned sanctions Israel argues that they will hurt Palestinian workers, for example at dairies in the Jordan Valley, and damage Israeli-Palestinian relations.