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Knesset speaker warns settlement labeling could ‘undermine’ EU-Israel ties

The European Court of Justice’s ruling earlier this week determining that the labeling of settlement goods is legally binding could seriously hurt ties between Israel and the European Union, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein warned on Thursday.

In a letter to the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, Edelstein conveyed a “good measure of dismay and disappointment” over the EU court’s verdict.

“I am gravely concerned that the court’s decision could undermine the political and economic ties between Israel and the European Union and have far-reaching, negative ramifications for the prospects of peace between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East,” the Knesset speaker wrote to his counterpart.

The verdict, handed down Tuesday by the EU’s top court in Luxembourg, “applies a double standard to Israel and the disputed territories under its control,” Edelstein went on. “Indeed, out of dozens of such areas around the world, I believe only Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights are subject to such labeling regulations.”

The judges also “chose to overlook the deep, historic connection between the Jewish people and the entire land of Israel,” he wrote.

Using the Biblical terms for the West Bank, Edelstein argued that Judea and Samaria should not be considered “occupied” by Israel “as they were never part of another country.”

Israel’s control of these territories was legitimated by the Balfour Declaration, the 1920 San Remo Resolution and Article 80 Section 12 of the UN Charter, wrote Edelstein, a vociferous opponent of Palestinian statehood and strong supporter of Israel’s settlement project.

Furthermore, the EU court ignored the “implausibility” of returning the Golan Heights to Syria, he added.

“At the same time, the court prescribed differential treatment for Arabs and Jews based on ethnicity by mandating that food labels not indicate merely ‘West Bank’ or ‘Golan Heights’ but specifically that the foods come from a Jewish settlement — lest consumers mistake these goods for Arab ones,” the Knesset speaker lamented in his letter.

“By imposing this requirement, the court prejudges the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in contradiction to the longstanding position of the European Union — and the international community as a whole — that bilateral steps and talks are the only way to resolve this conflict.”

Edelstein added that the court’s verdict accused only Israel if violating international law but disregarded “the conduct of its enemies,” noting that this week Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians.

The “selective information” on which the court based its ruling “will inevitably result in a boycott of goods” from the settlements but also from Israel proper, he posited.

“In doing so, the court has knowingly adopted the arguments long propounded by the BDS movement, whose extremist agenda aims to destroy the economy of Israel as a whole in order to force it to capitulate to the Palestinians.”

If implemented, the court’s “disgraceful” verdict would undermine the EU’s ability play a fair and objective role in the Middle East peace process, according to Edelstein.

Furthermore, it is “likely to result directly in many problems for Israel’s economic cooperation” with EU member states.

Edelstein concluded his letter by urging Sassoli to get the European Parliament and member states’ parliaments to announce “their unqualified opposition to this unfortunate ruling.”

A yet-unpublished study by a pro-Palestinian nonprofit in Brussels found that only 10 percent of settlement wines in European stores are labelled in accordance to EU’s labeling policy.

The EU, meanwhile, took great pains this week to stress that it was not banning settlement goods and opposes boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

“Products originating from the settlements outside the internationally recognized borders, i.e., before 1967, have not been blocked and will not be blocked from entry into the EU,” a spokesperson for the union’s Ramat Gan embassy told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The Knesset speaker’s criticism of the EU court’s ruling joins that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, as well as of the US State Department and various US Congressmen.

“Europe the other day decided to act against Israel, and to put labels on products that are made here,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “They don’t join the sanctions against Iran, they join sanctions against Israel. Unbelievable!”

Palestinian officials welcomed the court’s ruling, and urged European countries to implement “what is a legal and political obligation,” senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

“Our demand is not only for the correct labeling reflecting the certificate of origin of products coming from illegal colonial-settlements, but for the banning of those products from international markets,” he added.

The court took on the case after Psagot Winery — which is located in a settlement by the same name just north of Jerusalem — challenged a 2016 ruling by a French court that said goods produced in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights must be labeled as originating in an “Israeli settlement.”

In their decision Tuesday, the 15 judges wrote that it was necessary to label Israeli settlement goods as such “to prevent consumers from being misled as to the fact that the State of Israel is present in the territories concerned as an occupying power and not as a sovereign entity.”

The court further stated that Israeli settlements “are characterized by the fact that they give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by that state outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law.”

A label that merely stated “Made in the West Bank” was insufficient, the court said, because customers would not have a way of knowing that the product they are considering purchasing originated in a locality established “in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law.”

A bottle of wine sold in a Belgian supermarket from a Golan winery labeled ‘correctly’ according to EU rules

An overwhelming majority of Israeli settlement goods sold in European stores are currently not being labeled as such, according to a study by a Brussels-based think tank.

Only 10 percent of the 3,089 wines from the West Bank and the Golan Heights located across the continent by the European Middle East Project (EuMEP), a nonprofit critical of the settlements, were labeled according to the instructions issued by the European Commission in November 2015.

“Among EU member states, most settlement wines are on sale in the UK, Belgium, France, Germany,” the still-unpublished research paper found. It did not find any settlement wines in eight EU states, mostly in the continent’s southeast.

“Only 10% of the settlement wines on sale in the EU have correct or partially correct origin indication in line with EU rules, i.e. “Product of West Bank/Golan Heights (Israeli settlement),” according to the paper, which was written by EuMEP director Martin Konecny.

According to the 2015 guidelines that were upheld this week by the court, wines made in the West Bank or the Golan must include not only the name of the geographical place of origin but also that it was produced in an “Israeli settlement.”

Only seven percent of all analyzed labels met that criteria.

Three percent of the wines carried labels saying “Israeli settlements” or “occupied territory” but did not specify the West Bank or the Golan Heights, or actually stated Israel as the country of origin.

All the other wines — 2,792 out of 3,089 — indicated their origin was either Israel, only the given territory (Golan or West Bank Heights), or a particular wine region (for example Galilee — whose grapes are used by the Golan Heights Winery, for example — or Judea), or did not provide any origin at all.

According to the study, the country with the most “incorrectly” labeled settlement wines is the UK; of 590 wines, not a single one indicated that it was from a settlement.

In France, nearly 300 settlement wines were labeled “incorrectly,” while 132 indicated their origin correctly or partly correctly, the study found.

Psagot Winery has been chosen by World Finance, a London-based publication, as Israel’s top wine producer for 2018, in its first annual wine competition that features the magazine’s list of the best brands from 14 of the top wine countries in the world.

While Israel has been enjoying a renaissance of wine culture throughout much of the 21st century, overcoming obstacles on the international front proves a meaningful victory for Psagot.

Visit Psagot Winery homepage