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EU court rules products from Israeli settlements must be labelled

Construction site of homes in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, 7 April 2019.
Construction site of homes in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, 7 April 2019. Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

Following a request from a French tribunal, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that products from Israeli settlements must be labelled as such if they are sold in the European Union, a decision hailed by Palestinians and rights groups but condemned by Israel.

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The Luxembourg-based court ruled that European Union (EU) regulations meant food labels must clarify where products are from so that consumers can make choices based on “ethical considerations and considerations relating to the observance of international law.”

The ruling comes after France’s top tribunal asked for clarification on how to label goods from the occupied West Bank, Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The EU rejects Israeli settlement expansion on the grounds that it undermines hopes for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967 and began settling both areas shortly afterwards. Palestinians claim both areas as part of a future Palestinian state.

The ECJ underlined that settlements “give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by the State outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law”.

PLO welcomes the ruling, Israel condemns EU 'double standards'

Palestinian Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat welcomed the decision and called upon all EU member states to implement it.

Oxfam and Human Rights Watch (HRW) also welcomed the ruling, which HRW EU director Lotte Leicht said was “an important step toward EU member states upholding their duty not to participate in the fiction that illegal settlements are part of Israel’.

Israel’s foreign ministry issued a statement rejecting the ruling and alleging it was based on a “double standard”.

“The ruling’s entire objective is to single out and apply a double standard against Israel,” the statement read.

“There are over 200 ongoing territorial disputes across the world, yet the ECJ has not rendered a single ruling related to the labelling of products originating from these territories.”

The political significance of the ruling outweighs its economic impact, as the volume of settlement goods coming into Europe is estimated to affect about 1 percent of total imports from Israel, which amount to about 15 billion euros per year.

Experts warned the ruling will be difficult to enforce because the real origin of produce is not always easy to identify.

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