Israel Boycott gains traction as EU demands settlement products are labelled

Boycotting Israeli products produced in illegal settlements will soon be easier following new guidelines issued today by the European Commission.

Agricultural and cosmetic products sold in EU member states must be explicity labelled if they come from settlements built on occupied territories, according to the Commission's new guidelines. The measures, decided this afternoon, adopt an "interpretative notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967."

The decision comes as tensions are particularly high in the West Bank, in part because of Israel's settlement policyReuters

The decision comes as tensions are high in Israel-Palestine after a wave of attacks on Israelis. More than 70 Palestinians and 12 Israelis have died in the violence which is in part fuelled by the growth of settlements.

Along with many western nations, the EU's position is that the lands Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war – including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – are not part of the internationally recognised borders of Israel.

As such, goods from there cannot be labeled "Made in Israel" and should be labeled as coming from settlements, which the EU considers illegal under international law.

"It's an indication of origin, not a warning label," the EU ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, told Reuters.

However Israeli Prmie Minister Netanyahu was quick to denounce the decision as "hypocritical and a double standard."

"The European Union should be ashamed of itself," he said. "We do not accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side being attacked by terrorist acts."

Israel's foreign ministry supported Netanyahu's statement and said the move singled Israel out and was potentially harmful to long-standing peace efforts.

"We regret that the EU has chosen, for political reasons, to take such an exceptional and discriminatory step, inspired by the boycott movement," it said in a statement.

"Product labeling will strengthen the radical elements advocating a boycott against Israel and denying Israel's right to exist, contradicting positions the EU publicly opposes."

Israel's fury is partly because it sees the new guidelines as overly aggressive towards Israel directly and points out the EU does not treat other cases of long-standing occupation, such as Morocco's seizure of Western Sahara in the same way.

Israel's Economy Ministry estimates the impact of Wednesday's decision will be about $50 million a year, affecting fresh produce such as grapes and dates, wine, poultry, honey, olive oil and cosmetics made from Dead Sea minerals.

That is around a fifth of the $200-$300 million worth of goods produced in settlements each year, but a drop in the ocean next to the $30 billion of goods and services traded between Israel and the European Union each year.

Britain, Belgium and Denmark already affix labels to Israeli goods, differentiating between those from Israel proper and those, particularly fruits and vegetables, that come from the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank. Now, all 28 EU member states would have to apply the same labeling.

Additional reporting from Reuters.