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Israel suspends meetings with EU over decision to label settlement produce

Netanyahu linked the EU decision to Nazi Germany after the 28-member block ruled it would be labelling all Israeli settlement products
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event at the Center for American Progress (AFP)

Israel has suspended upcoming meetings with the European Union in retaliation for it issuing guidelines calling on all produce originating from Israeli settlements to be clearly labelled. 

"Because of the latest EU decision, Israel is suspending its diplomatic dialogue with the EU in various forums which had been scheduled to take place in the coming weeks," Israel's foreign ministry said on Wednesday. 

Shortly before the announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared the European Union's decision to label goods from Israeli settlements to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.

"The labelling of products of the Jewish state by the European Union brings back dark memories. Europe should be ashamed of itself," he said in an English-language video clip posted on Facebook.

"It (the EU) took an immoral decision [...] this will not advance peace, it will certainly not advance truth and justice. It's wrong."

האיחוד האירופי צריך להתבייש. == The European Union should be ashamed.

Posted by ‎Benjamin Netanyahu - בנימין נתניהו‎ on Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Netanyahu drew the same comparison in September when he said that Israelis "remember history and we remember what happened when the products of Jews were labelled in Europe". 

After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they imposed an economic boycott against the country's Jews, issuing orders and posting signs telling the public not to buy from them.

The EU Commission "interpretative notice" ruling released earlier in the day set guidelines for labelling products from Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and annexed east Jerusalem as well as the Golan Heights, all occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.

The produce should now read "made in an Israeli settlement" or equivalent in order to be sold in the EU. Products from the West Bank meanwhile, which do not come from settlements, should be labelled as "product from Palestine" or equivalent. 

The settlements are deemed illegal under international law and are considered a major stumbling block to peace efforts since those in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are built on land Palestinians see as part of their future state.

"Of the hundreds of territorial conflicts around the world it chose to single out Israel and Israel alone," Netanyahu said, adding that labelling would not hurt Israel's economy but would hit jobs for Palestinian workers employed in the settlements.

Israel's foreign ministry had earlier summoned the UN envoy to the country over the decision and called the step "discriminatory".

On Tuesday, in anticipation of the move, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz called the labelling measure "disguised anti-Semitism".

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, from the right-wing Jewish Home party and known for provocative statements, also called the move "anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish," adding that "European hypocrisy and hate against Israel have surpassed all limits".

However, Daniel Levy, programme director for ECFR's MENA programme, said that the outrage was a political tactic. 

"Israel knows that Europe and the entire world do not recognise the legality of the settlements and that all signed agreements between the EU and Israel do not recognise settlements as part of Israel," he said in a statement. 

"So Israel’s orchestrated display of outrage is really an attempt to intimidate the EU into not taking further measures in drawing the necessary legal distinction between Israel and the illegal aspects of its occupation. Europe should not accept unfounded and outrageous Israeli accusations drawing an analogy with the darkest periods of European and Jewish history."  

According to Israel's ambassador to the EU, David Walzer, trade from settlements only accounts for two to three percent of Israeli exports (or some $200m) to the European Union. 

Ohad Cohen, head of external commerce at Israel’s economy ministry, told AFP that "only the agricultural products, the wine, the cosmetic products which require an origin label" will be impacted, adding that he estimated that only about $50mn worth of trade would be lost due to the measure. 

The Palestine Liberation Organisation said the EU decision was a positive step but that it did not go far enough, calling for a ban on such commerce.