In a move that chills already-frosty relations between Israel and the European Union, European regulators on Wednesday announced guidelines to specially label products produced in Israeli settlements that are sold in the EU.
European officials said the move – which came after months of delays – was only a clarification of its existing guidelines, but the Israeli Foreign Ministry quickly denounced the action as an “exceptional and discriminatory step” made for “political reasons.”
After the guidelines were unveiled, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU’s ambassador to Israel was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to be “reprimanded,” Haaretz reports.
The decision to label the products reflects Europeans’ unhappiness with Israel’s continuing expansion into territory that Palestinians claim as theirs.
Once the labeling is implemented, European consumers will be able to determine whether products – mainly fruit and vegetables – are produced in Israeli settlements.
Under the guidelines, the term “product of Israel” will not be used for goods produced by Israeli businesses and farms in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, which have not been recognized internationally, the New York Times reports.
European officials argued the move was purely technical, not a political act. Previously, three member-states – Britain, Belgium and Denmark – had begun specially labeling products from the West Bank settlements, forcing EU officials to streamline for the 28 member-state bloc.
“This is no way changes our stance with respect to the Middle East peace process,” a spokesman for the European Commission told the Times. “This in no way affects the agreement we have with Israel with respect to preferential treatment for their products sold in the European Union.”
Goods produced in Israeli settlements would be exempted from rules that allow importation of products produced in Israel under lower tariffs, he added.
But Israeli officials said the move was inspired by an international boycott against Israel and comes as the country faces a “wave of terrorism” during increased Palestinian attacks.
“It is puzzling and even irritating that the E.U. chooses to apply a double standard concerning Israel, while ignoring that there are over 200 other territorial disputes worldwide, including those occurring within the EU or on its doorstep,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.
The Israeli foreign ministry argues the EU’s move could threaten Israel’s relationship with Europe and make it more difficult to resume peace talks with Palestinians.
Israel has argued the food labeling could carry a political stigma that could reduce sales to European consumers.
But EU officials have said that in Britain, which began labeling Israeli settlement products in 2009, it has had no negative economic impact. They say the labeling of settlement-made products would apply to less than 1 percent of total trade between the EU and Israel, which is about 32 billion euros ($32 billion).
While the requirements are mandatory for fruits and vegetables, they are voluntary for prepackaged food products and industrial goods other than cosmetics, the New York Times reports.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story