The EU's top court ruled Tuesday that food products from occupied Palestinian territories must be labelled as such, drawing an angry response from Israel which slammed a "double standard".
A statement published by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the court verdict as "a tool in the political campaign against Israel", while "the ruling's entire objective is to single out and apply a double standard against Israel".
The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said labels must not imply that goods produced in occupied territory came from Israel itself.
Indeed, only six out of the 28 European Union member states have taken an active stance in including in their legislation the UN Security Council-required policy of differentiation between Israeli settlements and Israel.
The EU wants any produce made in the settlements to be easily identifiable to shoppers and insists that they should not carry the generic "Made in Israel" tag.
About 620,000 Israeli colonists now occupy settlements founded illegally on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
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 worldwide humanitarian law".
European retailers would normally be expected to do the labelling, but the real origin of the produce is not always easy to identify, experts say.
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The halting of funds to the UNRWA, recognising occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, relocating USA embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem, refusing to restrain Israel from illegally expanding settlements are just a few among such moves hostile to Palestinians.
"It plays into the hands of the Palestinian Authority, which continues to refuse to engage in direct negotiations with Israel, and emboldens radical anti-Israel groups that advance and call for boycotts against Israel and deny its right to exist".
Israel says the labelling is unfair and discriminatory.
Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch, said it was "an important step toward EU member states upholding their duty not to participate in the fiction that illegal settlements are part of Israel".
Oxfam's director in the Palestinian territories, Shane Stevenson, said settlements "are violating the rights and freedoms of Palestinians" and that "consumers have a right to know the origin of the products they purchase, and the impact these purchases have on people's lives".
The court rejected the lawsuit and reaffirmed both the French government's requirement and the European Commission regulation. "I intend to work with European foreign ministers to prevent the implementation of this gravely flawed policy".
In contrast, the European Union has openly included the territory of Western Sahara, illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975, in bilateral agreements on agricultural and fishery products with Rabat, allowing these goods to enter the European Union market as assimilated to Moroccan products and labelled as such. That decision also enforced the use of identifying labels but wasn't legally binding.
The decision by the court today constitutes a major step in this direction.
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