BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
After years of talk and bluster the EU has done what it has claimed it would do, announce guidelines regarding the labeling of products from the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan. Israel has responded by canceling some meetings with the EU in coming weeks that relate to “dialogue” about diplomacy, likely related to the peace process.
Here are a few things to consider:
1) The new guidelines don’t have any practical impact…yet. They are basically guidelines for the EU member states “providing them with legal instructions as to the placement of consumer labels” on products “that are not made in Israel.” Currently that is a “technical” issue, because the individual states have to decide how to implement it. The overall goal is some uniformity across the EU and the theory is that this will encourage member states to get tough on these products. But for now, it practically is meaningless and symbolically important.
2) One report notes that the guidelines “aren’t expected to necessarily apply to Israeli industrial or electronic products, or to non-fresh foods.” Wait a sec, so the guidelines don’t even apply to the big money-making products that might be produced over the Green Line. So practically the measure is not applied to many products.
3) The UK has already been labeling these products, and it doesn’t make a difference. The UK has waged a campaign for years not only to label these products but also to attack any advertising that shows such things as the Western Wall (Kotel) as “in Israel.” But studies showed the UK guidelines had “no negative effect.”
4) European consumers don’t care. In interviews with Israel’s channel two Europeans in Holland said they didn’t care. One woman in Germany said she might “think twice” about buying wine over the Green Line. A French woman said she “might” buy products. The message is, even if the consumers can find the little confusing labels that say “West Bank-Israel settlements”…they won’t say no necessarily. “I don’t know what the labels mean,” said one shop owner in the UK.
5) For more than a ten years products made over the Green Line were excluded from “trade preferences” that Israel has with the EU. Whatever affect that had, has already happened.
6) Whose afraid of telling the truth? “It’s an indication of origin, not a warning label,” EU ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, told reporters. Why does that scare Israel? For 48 years Israel has maintained a military administration over the West Bank, without annexing it or determining its status. Israel had ample opportunity to decide, but instead of deciding it exported around 700,000 Israeli citizens over the Green Line. It is kind of ridiculous for Israel to claim that it is being singled out or that it is unfair, when it is Israel that made these choices to permanently occupy an area and never decide what to do with it. Should the world wait another 50 years or 1,000 years before Israel has decided what the status is? Israel wants its cake and to eat it to. Cheap labor and cheap property over the Green Line, cheaper housing, economic “settlers”, but no determination of status. And then to complain that the EU merely labelled where the products came from. If America conquered part of Mexico (say, the state of Sonora), and then just kept it as a military administration, while millions of Americans moved there, one would assume that products made there would be labelled “Sonora”, not “Made in America.” The issue may seem incredibly galling relating to the Golan, since Israel did annex the Golan, and therein may be a troubling case. But how many products are made in the Golan anyway? Those who live up in the Golan got nice land, they live behind fenced in acceptance committees, let’s say, that they can suffer a little EU labeling for the bucolic life up there. No one forced them to live there.
7) Israel has questioned why the EU has a double standard when it comes to other disputed areas, such as Western Sahara, which Morocco occupied in 1975. Well, 1975 is 8 years after 1967, so maybe in 8 years the EU will apply the same standards. Pro-Israel activists have claimed there are some 200 other disputed areas the EU doesn’t label, but most of these are very small, have limited or no exports to the EU, have been disputed for less time and have little population. Per capita, Israel’s “disputed” area is 25% the size of Israel (5,000 sq km and 20,000 sq km approx, the Golan is 1,800 sq km) and has some 20-30% of the population of Israel within the Green Line. No other country in the world is involved in a “dispute” so large per capita, or for such a length of time, or which exports so many items from that territory to the EU. Once again Israel plays this game of “we didn’t know” as if suddenly the West Bank fell from the sky, when in fact Israel has invested billions of shekels over the Green Line. Organizations like the WZO knowingly spend money on agriculture over the Green Line, as does the state, those are decisions and adult states and organizations and people must take responsibility. They want to spend but not advance policy of determining final status.
8) When Anderson was asked about whether the EU applies the same standards to Russian-occupied (and annexed) Crimea, he said the EU has a ban on imports from there. A ban. Not labels, but a ban. And in the Crimea, Russia let the local people vote if they wanted annexation. It may not have been a perfect vote, but at least they got to vote. Did Israel let Palestinians vote to become part of Israel. Not even East Jerusalem Arabs got that right.
9) The details of the labeling apply mostly to “fruit and vegetables” and affects “less than 1 percent of trade”. Wait a sec. So that means it is a tiny, tiny amount of the $14 billion in exports Israel sends to the EU. In fact the value of products “labelled” will be $50 million a year. Dates, grapes, over-priced Israeli honey. Wine. Olive oil. Don’t the growers already benefit from cheaper labor over the Green Line? Doesn’t that mitigate the supposed harm done from the labeling?
10) Even if there is a 5-10% reduction in purchases, the affect is marginal. Israel can export the products to China instead. Or it can do the opposite and label the products “extra good”. Why not turn the tables on the EU and do that?
11) Channel 2 said the “parties are supposed to deal with final border” and claimed the labeling means the EU is determining a final peace agreement, but Lars Anderson says Israel and the Palestinians can agree to those borders, this is not pre-judging, when the parties agree, these areas are disputed.
12) Gaza is included too? Again, with Gaza it is a consumer issue of “place of origin” and the EU is correct. Should they write “Israel” as the origin when it is Gaza, should they write “Palestine”, or? So it’s proper to label items from Gaza, as coming from Gaza. If Gaza was smart it would brand these items as “Gazan made”. But what products are exported from Gaza? Who knows. Whatever they are, there might be a tiny unreadable label now on them in the EU.
There are implications that may relate to the consumer boycott of Israel. However, the most radical boycotters of the BDS movement tend to target all of Israel, so for them the new labeling doesn’t make much difference. The overall economic impact of these boycotters is minimal. Will some shops choose not to stock these agricultural products that are grown over the Green Line, and use the new labeling as a guidelines? There is some marginal chance of that, but as stated above, the overall economic impact is minimal. Convincing just a few importers in China or Russia or other places to buy Israeli products would reverse this impact. The affect will thus be symbolic. It may lead to other measures, which should prod Israel to make decisions about the West Bank, rather than make Israel decide to sour relations with the EU in general. In the final analysis the labeling is not only a logical step for consumers, but a totally marginal issue that will have little economic affect.