The European Union is poised to make a significant mistake this week — one that will harm its relations with the United States, politicize international trade, undermine economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, and reward Palestinians who reject peace with Israel.
The EU will reportedly release a new trade rule that singles out Israel — and only Israel — for discriminatory treatment. The rule requires products sold in Europe and produced in what the EU considers “Israeli-occupied territories” to be specially labeled. The labels are intended to encourage Europeans to boycott Israeli products, and to stoke European animosity toward Israel — which is already at disturbingly high levels. There are more than 200 disputed territories worldwide and yet European leaders have chosen to single out only the Jewish state for this economic sanction.
The rule is grossly unjust. It makes a mockery of the EU’s claimed commitment to international law. It punishes Israel for Palestinian leaders’ repeated rejection of statehood offers and for their ongoing refusal to negotiate. In the midst of a new wave of Palestinian terror, the EU seeks to punish Israel while taking no action against Palestinians inciting and perpetrating murder.
The rule requires products sold in Europe and produced in what the EU considers ‘Israeli-occupied territories’ to be specially labeled.
To illustrate the absurdity of this policy, produce grown in the hills outside Jerusalem will be specially labeled, but not produce grown in Gaza, which is controlled by a U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist organization. Remarkably, the EU’s labels will even apply to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in a defensive war in 1967.
And while the EU is rewarding Palestinians who refuse to make peace, the Palestinians who will face the most harm from the labeling rule are those who work cooperatively with Israelis. One of the only lasting achievements of the peace process is the creation of a single economic unit, including a customs union, of Israeli and Palestinian Authority–controlled areas. This free trade and economic cooperation improves lives and gives Palestinians a stake in maintaining peace — but the EU will now deliberately punish this cooperation, and the people who will be hurt the most are Palestinian workers, not Israelis.
Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration has chosen not to oppose the EU’s labeling rule. But future administrations should vigorously oppose it through legal challenges to this politically motivated barrier to trade. This should also be treated as a significant problem in U.S.-EU relations.
But it doesn’t have to come to that: The EU can come to its senses and choose not to go down this road.
Today, I urge European leaders to pause and consider the gravity of what they are about to do, and to reconsider their decision to single out Israel for discrimination.