By DON MELVINAssociated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) - A group of aid organizations proposed Tuesday that products from Israeli settlements no longer be allowed to bear a "Made in Israel" label when they're sold inside the European Union.
The report - produced by 22 aid, development and church groups from nine EU countries - argues that the bloc's policy toward Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories is inconsistent: On the one hand, the EU's position is that the settlements are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace, while on the other hand EU trade helps sustain them.
The report says the most recent estimate of EU imports from the settlements, provided this year by Israel to the World Bank, is $300 million a year - about 15 times the amount of imports from Palestinians. There are more than 4 million Palestinians, compared to about 500,000 Israeli settlers.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, reacted with withering criticism toward the non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, involved.
"The report contains many inexactitudes and self-contradictions, and its bottom line is not to clarify the situation but to push forward a political case," Palmor said. "This objective would have been much better served had the NGOs bothered to take into account all relevant facts and circumstances rather than cherry-pick those that serve their little political PR stunt."
While 22 organizations participated in producing the report, few if any of them are globally known. The list includes names such as Caabu, from Britain; Cordaid, from the Netherlands; and Trocaire, from Ireland.
The report urges the European Union to take a number of measures, including, at a minimum, ensuring "correct consumer labeling of all settlement products."
Currently, Britain says that food from the settlements cannot be labeled "produce of Israel" but must instead be labeled "produce of the West Bank." In addition, retailers are allowed to distinguish further by adding either "Israeli settlement produce" or "Palestinian produce," if they so choose. Denmark put in place a similar restriction this year.
The report recommends that such regulations adopted throughout the 27-member European Union, and be broadened to include manufactured goods as well as food.
The most common settlement products sold in the EU include dates, citrus fruits, herbs, cosmetics, toys, textile products and carbonation devices.
"Despite its firm position that settlements are not part of Israel, Europe has been accepting imports of these settlements products with origin designated as 'Israel,' thus acquiescing to Israel's extension of sovereignty over the occupied territory," the report said. Such labeling denies consumers the right to make informed decisions, it argued.
As a stronger measure, the report suggests that national governments consider banning the import of projects from Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The call for national action appeared to reflect doubt that it would be possible to get the consensus necessary to enact such a ban at the EU level.
The Palestinians have long called for a boycott of goods made in Israeli settlements and even have lit bonfires to destroy them.
The report recommends a range of other possible measures, ranging from excluding settlement products from preferential market access to excluding settlement products and companies from public procurements.
However, following a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2010, settlement imports do not receive the same duty-free status as products from Israel, though the report implied it may in some cases be difficult to differentiate them from products made within the internationally recognized borders of the country.
The EU has accords with both Israel and the Palestinians that end customs duties.
Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report. Follow Don Melvin at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin .
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