The deadly terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and their aftermath have overshadowed a decision made by the European Union two days earlier: that all member states must label products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights as originating from those locations, rather than as “made in Israel.” While the move does not amount to a boycott, as some critics contend, the decree is more than just a push for truth in labeling — it is a direct attempt to impose economic pressure on Israel in order to effect a political result.
In releasing its guidelines, the EU has declared where it believes the line between Israel and a future Palestine should run. That political declaration is wrong for two reasons: First, it is not the place of the EU to substitute its judgment for that of the participants in any peace talks. And second, the EU’s offensive “settlement” designations include places such as Ma’ale Adumim and the Etzion bloc, which likely will be ceded to Israel, thereby reflecting an ignorance of geographic reality.
The Israeli government has properly condemned the EU’s move, as have a number of Jewish groups, arguing that the guidelines represent a double standard that will discourage the Palestinians from returning to peace talks. The announcement won praise from the Palestinians and support from Peace Now, which declared the guidelines “a means to oppose the occupation and, thereby, support Israel.”
We disagree. By treating the West Bank and the Golan as generic territories, the EU ignores the significant differences between them. Why penalize products from the Golan, when absolutely no one is seriously proposing that Israel talk peace with Syria? In addition, the guidelines can easily be understood to be a part of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Such confusion does nothing to advance peace and can only hurt Israel.
Finally, any loss of business to settlement companies will also be felt by the Palestinians who are employed there. SodaStream, for instance, pulled out of the West Bank this year after being targeted by international protests. It relocated on the other side of the Green Line but left its old employees behind.
Although the economic pain the new EU labeling decree will inflict on Israel will be marginal, it is still offensive. More importantly, the EU’s move will not bring the Middle East any closer to peace. Compared to the security threat posed by the Islamic State, labeling produce from the settlements seems like an incredibly trivial issue on which the lawmakers in Brussels have chosen to spend their time.