On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu ordered the suspension of all contacts between Israeli officials and representatives of the European Union who are dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Netanyahu’s order was a reaction to the EU decision to oblige member states to label Israeli products made in the so-called West Bank (Judea and Samaria), East-Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The EU decision to implement the measure at a time when Israeli society has been rocked by an explosion of Palestinian terror led to outrage among Israeli politicians across the political spectrum and the Israeli public.
The European Union claims that the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria and on the Golan Heights is illegal under international law. By international law, the EU means UN resolutions (most of them non-binding UNGA resolutions) and its (some say deeply flawed) interpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that was intended to prevent a repeat of what the Nazis did with the Jews in Europe when they transferred them to the Polish death camps.
Israel’s position on Judea-Samaria and the Golan Heights is that the Israeli presence in those territories is consistent with international law and was even mandated by the League of Nations in the Mandate for Palestine. The Israeli position is supported by many experts on international law, among them Professor Julius Stone, Professor Eugene Kontorovich, Professor Avraham Bell, and Jaques Gauthier.
Israel has long tried to dissuade the EU from implementing the new label policy, which it sees as discriminatory and counterproductive for the peace process because it will give a boost to the Boycott Sanctions and Divestment movement and will further complicate future negotiations with the Palestinians.
Under the new regulations, EU member states are obliged to label Israeli products that were made or packaged in Judea, Samaria, East-Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.
The regulations also require a specification whether the products were produced by Palestinians or Israelis. Some critics have compared this measure to what the Germans did to Jewish shop owners before and during World War II when they marked Jewish shops with notice boards saying “Don’t buy from Jews” (Kauft Nicht Bei Juden).
These critics say the new EU label policy is anti-Semitic because the European Union singled out Israel from all other occupying powers in the world. They point to the illegal occupation of Tibet by China and parts of Cyprus by Turkey and the fact that the EU is silent about these and other illegal occupations, whereas Israel has a legal claim on the territories mentioned above.
The Hungarian government has now decided to defy the EU and has announced that it will not comply with the new regulations.
The Hungarian ambassador in Israel, Andor Nagy, told The Times of Israel that the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently examining what can be done against the EU regulations. He said that because the regulations were mandatory, the Hungarian government will have to fight with the EU Commission that approved the measures.
Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s Minister of Trade and Foreign Affairs said earlier this month that the EU label policy “is an inefficient instrument. It is irrational and does not contribute to a solution (to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), but causes damage.”
Szijjártó is right about the damage, thinks former Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Arens. But Szijjártó probably didn’t think of the damage done to the Palestinian Arabs by the new EU label policy when he made his comment.
In an op-ed for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Arens pointed out that the EU policy is more damaging to the Palestinian economy than the Israeli one. Arens wrote that in the industrial zones in Judea and Samaria alone, 10,000 Palestinian Arabs find employment in Israeli companies. They earn a much better wage than Palestinian workers in the territories under PA control and enjoy social benefits provided by Israeli law, he claimed.
“The EU, now facing attacks from Islamic jihadists, has, as usual, got it all wrong, when its bureaucrats call on members to label products originating in the industrial zones of Judea and Samaria, in anticipation that such products will be boycotted by European shoppers,” Arens wrote.
If their plans prove to be effective they will hurt the Palestinians living in these territories, increase unemployment there, force Palestinians into lower-paying jobs and add to the masses making the trip to Israel each morning in search of work. In other words, such a move will lead to a net loss for the Palestinian economy. The industrial zones in Judea and Samaria contribute far more to the Palestinian economy than do the subsidies provided by the EU to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Who knows how much of these subsidies go to waste there in a network of corruption?
“The EU would do better to encourage European shoppers to purchase products originating in the industrial zones,“ Arens concluded.
The European Union, however, is sure that it has chosen the right path and expects that all member states will comply with the new legislation. The EU has even stated that it will ensure compliance if needed by way of infringement proceedings.
The Israeli announcement about the suspension of the contacts with EU officials about the peace process is seen as posturing by the EU and has not impressed the EU member states thus far.
The EU remains convinced that it just took an important step that will ultimately bring the realization of the so-called two-state solution.