In April, 16 of 28 European Union foreign ministers signed a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini asking her to move forward on labeling goods that are produced in the West Bank and sold in European grocery chains.
“European consumers must indeed have confidence in knowing the origin of goods they are purchasing,” the letter said. If a product is made in the West Bank (which Europeans do not consider part of Israel proper), according to the argument, then anyone purchasing it has the right to be notified.
So is this simply a case of truth in advertising? Of course not. The same letter from the 16 governments revealed another motive. “We remain of the view that this is an important step in the full implementation of EU longstanding policy, in relation to the preservation of the two-state solution,” the ministers declared. “The continued expansion of Israeli illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…threatens the prospect of a just and final peace agreement.”
If the goal, then, is to advance the two-state solution by repudiating Israeli businesses in the West Bank, why does Europe bother to promote the tertiary argument about inspiring “confidence in knowing the origin of goods”? Because doing so allows European officials to maintain that they are not participating in the sinister Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS is a campaign to isolate Israel economically and politically through boycotts and other discriminatory tactics. Its aim is to delegitimize and ultimately cripple the Jewish state.
But to Israelis, the labeling of West Bank products is a blow to the economy not only of the region, but of the entire country. A labeling regime that is applied to West Bank products, some argue, could eventually lead to a broader and potentially catastrophic boycott of all Israeli goods, as Israel increasingly becomes tarred as an illegal occupier and a pariah state. As Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid told Mogherini in a phone call, the demand by the 16 European foreign ministers was “effectively a call for the de facto boycott of Israel,” one that could “bring disaster to the Israeli economy.”
The Palestinian economy would feel the effect, as well. The West Bank currently is home to some 800 Israeli business, which cumulatively employ about 15,000 Palestinians, whose wages are markedly higher than what they would earn working for Palestinian employers. The recent decision by the noted Israeli beverage company SodaStream to move its operations from the West Bank to the Negev will mean its Palestinian workers will face a much longer commute and need to apply for permits to work in Israel.
In the end, the implementation of labeling policies may significantly influence their impact. The European Commission is expected to publish advisory guidelines for EU member-states, but whether and how vendors will be required to label certain products will vary from country to country. A label such as “Made in the West Bank” may be perceived differently than a label that reads, “Made in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” for example. And whether Palestinian-owned businesses will receive similar treatment to Jewish-owned businesses will be a key consideration in evaluating the intentions behind the labeling regime.
Meanwhile, Israel, as it does so often, braces itself, while the Palestinians repose and wait for the EU and the rest of the international community to continue to apply pressure on the Jewish state, in lieu of calling for an end to Palestinian incitement and a return by the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table. If a two-state solution is indeed what the EU seeks, it would do well to hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and encourage direct bilateral talks, rather than devising new means of isolating Israel and undermining its existence.