Friday, December 11, 2009

UK issues new guidance on labelling of food from illegal West Bank settlements.

Britain is about to mark imported food from the West Bank to distinguish between food produced by the Palestinians and food produced on illegal Israeli settlements.

Until now, food has been simply labelled "Produce of the West Bank", but the new, voluntary guidance issued by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), says labels could give more precise information, like "Israeli settlement produce" or "Palestinian produce".

Nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which were conquered in the 1967 war. The British government and the EU have repeatedly said Israel's settlement project is an "obstacle to peace" in the Middle East.

EU law already requires a distinction to be made between goods originating in Israel and those from the occupied territories, though pro-Palestinian campaigners say this is not always observed.

Separately, Defra said that traders would be committing an offence if they did declare produce from the occupied territories as "Produce of Israel".

Defra are correct. The occupied territories - and the settlements within them - have never been internationally recognised as part of Israel, so it would be wrong to label such goods as "Produce of Israel".

The Foreign Office are quick to deny that this is an attempt to encourage a boycott of Israeli goods:
"This is emphatically not about calling for a boycott of Israel," a Foreign Office spokesman said. "We believe that would do nothing to advance the peace process. We oppose any such boycott of Israel. We believe consumers should be able to choose for themselves what produce they buy. We have been very clear both in public and in private that settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace."
But there are many of us who would certainly avoid buying any produce which came from illegal settlements.

I am pleased that the British government have taken this stance. Consumers have a right to know what they are supporting when they make a purchase. And there are lots of us who would not willingly support the occupation of the Palestinian people and their land.

Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive, said: "Profiting from the goods produced in the illegal settlements is contrary to international law and they should be banned from sale in the European Union, as they are in Palestine. Trade in such goods undermines the viability of a sovereign Palestinian state and holds back the peace process.

"We support the right of consumers to know the origin of the products they purchase. Trade with Israeli settlements – which are illegal under international law – contributes to their economic viability and serves to legitimise them. It is also clear from our development work in West Bank communities that settlements have led to the denial of rights and create poverty for many Palestinians."

Dani Dayan, the Argentinian-born leader of the Yesha Council, which represents Israeli settlers, said the decision was the "latest hostile step" from Britain. "Products from our communities in Judea and Samaria should be treated as any other Israeli product," he said, using an Israeli term for the West Bank.

The very fact that Dayan refers to the West Bank and Gaza as Judea and Samaria tells us that there really is no way to have any reasonable discussion with him on this subject.

But this decision increases the pressure on Israel to abide by international law, and that can only be a good thing.

Click here for full article.

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