Palestine plea on settlement goods
The Palestinian government has sent letters to European Union member countries, asking them to restrict imports of goods made in Israeli West Bank settlements, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said.
The letter warns that Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts are "collapsing under the settlement expansion", Fayyad told The Associated Press ahead of talks with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
The Palestinians propose various options in the letter, from a total ban on imports from settlements to raising customs or labelling them, Fayyad said.
He said Britain has expressed interest in the latter two.
The dispute arises from complaints by the UK Revenues and Customs service that Israeli companies label products, especially fruit and vegetables grown on West Bank settlements, as originating within the Green Line.
In 2005, Ehud Olmert, then Israeli Finance Minister, and the then-European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson agreed that Israeli EU imports would be labelled with the postcodes of the area where they were produced, enabling governments and retailers to know if they originated on a settlement. The Israel-EU preferential trade agreement only covers products from within the Green Line. Now the Foreign Office is demanding that Israel identify settlement products more clearly.
In a circular distributed by the Foreign Office to all 27 EU members, Britain complains that "there has been an acceleration in settlement construction since Annapolis [the 2007 peace summit]" and adds that it is "keen to look at how UK and Community policies can avoid inadvertently supporting or encouraging settlement activity".
All retailers have now been sent information on inspecting goods from Israel to check their origin.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has spoken to Foreign Secretary David Miliband but refused to change the labelling policy. It will be raised during his visit to Israel on November 16.
The Foreign Office initiative is a result both of pressure from consumer groups with a significant pro-Palestinian element, and also what would seem to be British ambitions to lead a campaign by the EU to force Israel to take action on the various settlement issues. The paper suggests the EU uses "political influence to encourage Israel to freeze settlement construction as per Israel's Roadmap commitments. This could include refreshing language on settlements and highlighting settlements as a particular issue."