(*Whoah – more BDS/Israel articles today! Sign of the times heh): Israel Risks EU Settlement Label Threat as Boycott War Heats Up – Bloomberg Business
Made in a West Bank settlement: It’s a distinction the European Union will ask member states to make on goods produced in captured territories if Israel doesn’t do more to make peace with the Palestinians.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini relayed that message while in Israel last month, an EU official said on condition of anonymity. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will probably discuss the EU recommendation when he comes to Israel this month, the official said.
Supporters of economic sanctions, led by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, say such measures are the only means to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Israeli officials say the economic impact is less worrisome than the political implications, given Palestinian efforts to isolate Israel in the diplomatic and academic arenas as well.
The prospect of labeling the origin of settlement goods angers many Israelis, who say the label should remain ‘Made in Israel.’ “Attacking Israel through the labeling of settlement products does not contribute to the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians, nor contribute to the atmosphere of confidence and trust between us and the EU,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon.
Opposition lawmaker Yair Lapid, a former finance minister, called the EU plan “irresponsible” and said it could wreak havoc on Israel’s economy. Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman in April compared labeling to forcing Jews to wear yellow stars in Nazi Europe.
Some individual European states have already issued guidelines on labeling settlement products. Foreign ministers from 16 European nations sent a letter to Mogherini in April urging that similar EU-wide guidelines be issued.
“The main principle here is simply that consumers in Europe should not be misled about the origin of products,” said the EU spokesman in Israel, David Kriss.
Mogherini’s warning to Israel about a labeling guideline was first reported in the Ha’aretz daily.
The EU is Israel’s single biggest trading partner, accounting for about 28 billion euros ($31.4 billion) in Israeli exports in 2014. While figures on settlement exports to Europe are not available, Israeli officials say the amount has become negligible in recent years, largely due to labeling.
Most affected have been food and flowers produced in the Jordan Valley, where exports dropped 14 percent in 2013, largely due to a decline in business from EU countries that began labeling, said Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani. He estimates settlement farmers have lost as much as 150 million shekels ($39 million) in annual exports to Europe.
“We’ve made up some of that business in the past year with more exports to Russia,” Elhayani said. “Even if the Europeans want to renew that trade with us, we are not prepared to do business with them if they label our exports as coming from anywhere but Israel.”
In recent years, small numbers of European investors have also pulled out of Israeli banks and other companies, and in Cairo on Wednesday, Orange SA CEO Stephane Richard said he intends to end his company’s relationship with Israeli phone operator Partner Communications Co. because of its service to West Bank settlements.
Israeli officials say while the economic harm has been small, the sanctions are part of a broader, more damaging campaign to pressure Israel. After peace talks broke down more than a year ago, Palestinians resumed their efforts to further their statehood campaign by joining international bodies and treaties, including the international war crimes tribunal.
The growing scope of the challenge to Israel was illustrated this week with a vote by the U.K.’s National Union of Students to boycott settlement products. British student groups “boycott Israel but they refuse to boycott ISIS,” fumed Netanyahu, referring to Islamic State militants.
He’s vowed to take the offensive against the rising tide of sanctions sought by BDS. Critics say the group doesn’t only oppose Israeli settlements, but Israel’s existence, too, though supporters are divided on that score.
European officials say they oppose any boycotts of Israel and mean only to reinforce longstanding policy on settlement goods. The EU views Jewish settlements as illegal under international law, and has long excluded goods made there from the tariff reductions granted to products made in Israel.
Some boycott activists want the EU to take even tougher action. Israeli exporters have skirted sanctions by shipping settlement products to sites outside the West Bank and exporting them from there with a “Made in Israel” label, they say.
“If governments want to end economic support for illegal Israeli settlements, they should ban any trade with companies that operate in illegal Israeli settlements,” said Riya Hassan of BDS.