By Yossi Lempkowicz
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid described a call by 16 European Union Foreign Ministers, including those of France, Italy and Spain, to label products from the West Bank settlement as “irresponsible”.
Yair Lapid, who was Finance Minister in the outgoing government, spoke by telephone with the EU’s foreign affairs chief Frederica Mogherini.
“This is a de-facto call to boycott Israel,” Lapid said. “There is no difference between products which are produced over the Green Line and those that are produced within the Green Line.”
“This is an irresponsible call that could create wreak havoc on the Israeli economy. This kind of call is a stain on the EU, and the state of Israel has to fight to prevent this kind of initiative,” he said.
Lapid spoke with Mogherini after Israeli daily Haaretz published a letter by the 16 EU Foreign Ministers that called for the EU to publish its guidelines on the consumer labelling of West Bank settlement products in EU stores.
The products are already marked for EU customs officials, so that they are not included in Israel’s free trade arrangement with the EU.
“We would welcome you taking the lead in the European Commission in order to complete this important work on labelling settlement products,” the foreign ministers said in the letter to Mogherini, who is also Vice-President of the European Commission.
The letter, signed by Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and drafted, according to Haaretz, by his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders who also signed it, says that labelling guidelines would be “an important step in the full implementation of EU longstanding policy,” which constitutes that settlements in “territories occupied by Israel since 1967, threatens the prospect of a just and final peace agreement.”
EU consumers, the ministers said, have a right to know the origin of the products they are purchasing, adding that it was important to take a step against settlement expansion which threatens the prospect of a just and lasting peace.
The Foreign Ministers claim that distinguishing between West Bank and other Israeli goods means “Green Line Israel and Palestinian producers will benefit from this.”
Sweden, Malta, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia, Croatia, Finland, Denmark, The Netherlands and Luxembourg were the other signatories.
A senior Israeli diplomat was quoted as saying the EU “labelling products from Judea and Samaria is a yellow badge,” referencing the “Jude” stars the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust. Thursday was Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.
Mogherini’s office confirmed that it had received the letter, but said it did not yet have a response.
Mogherini’s predecessor Catherine Ashton began the process of labelling West Bank products in 2013, but it was put on hold while Israel and the PA were engaged in a series of peace negotiations, brokered by the United States.
The letter is seen by observers as a way to pressure Israel ahead of the formation of a new coalition government by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The EU has urged Israelis and Palestinians to quickly restart peace talks as Mogherini, who is considered to be more friendly towards Israel than Ashton, seeks to reinvigorate EU involvement in the negotiations.
“The EU is committed to working with the incoming Israeli government on a mutually beneficial relationship as well as on the re-launch of the peace process,”Mogherini said following Netanyahu’s electoral victory last March.
The Middle East Peace Process is not on the agenda of the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg.
A senior Likud party figure said recently that Europeans need to have a “more fair” attitude towards Israel should they want to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians.
“When do you accept all Palestinians demands before any negotiation, on the issue of borders, Jerusalem or the the right of return, you are not a fair mediator,” Silvan Shalom, who was Energy and Water Minister in the outgoing Netanyahu government, told a group of visiting European journalists.
Another minister, Naftali Bennett, has accused the European Union of being immoral in its policy toward Israel and of trying to use its economic leverage to impose solutions detrimental to the Jewish state’s security.
He reportedly made the remark in a recent closed-door meeting with ambassadors from the EU member states in Israel.
Both Shalom and Bennett are expected to be in the next Netanyahu government.