EU court strikes blow against Israeli settlers

By Andrew Rettman, euobserver.com – 25 Feb 2010
http://euobserver.com/9/29558

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The EU court in Luxembourg has ruled that Israel cannot pass off products made by its settlers on occupied Palestinian land as its own in order to get customs perks.

The verdict on Thursday (25 February) came in the case of German soft drinks firm Brita, which buys syrups from Israeli company Soda-Club in Mishor Adumin in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli customs authorities had put forward documents saying that the goods were made in Israel and fell under the customs rules of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

But the court ruling said Soda-Club should have obtained papers from the Palestinian Authority instead if it wanted any customs breaks.

“Products obtained in locations which have been placed under Israeli administration since 1967 do not qualify for the preferential treatment provided for under that [EU-Israel] agreement,” the court explained in a statement, referring to the 1967 Six-Day War.

The ruling sets an EU-wide precedent for Israeli imports to the union, worth €8.8 billion last year.

It is unlikely to have a big financial impact, however. The European Commission says that exports from settlements currently account for just 0.87 percent of the trade volume and are in many cases labelled as such, meaning they pay full EU customs duties.

But the judgment has political weight in the context of long-standing EU complaints that Israeli support for settlers is damaging the Middle East peace process.

An internal EU report of November 2009 written by the 21 EU embassies located in Ramallah said the union should put pressure on settler products from the most sensitive occupied regions as a form of mini-sanction.

It outlined a number of measures under the rubric “Recommendations to re-inforce the EU policy on East Jerusalem,” including to “ensure that products manufactured in East Jerusalem are not exported to the EU under the EU-Israel Association Agreement,” and to “provide guidance on origin labeling for settlement products to major EU retailers.”

The recommendations were not taken up by EU foreign ministers.

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