Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced he plans to ask the leftwing Meretz party to withdraw a bill which would see products created in the settlements to be marked as such. He made the announcement amid growing international pressure on Israel over the stalemate in the peace process with the Palestinians and the settlement enterprise.
“Israel is fighting back against attempts to boycott it in the international arena. I am encouraged that both the right and the left are uniting against the boycott, which targets our very existence and the IDF’s right to defend ourselves,” Netanyahu said.
However, “I was surprised to learn that one of our parties has proposed a bill to mark [Israeli] products. I plan to ask that they withdraw this bill. Like the poet Erez Biton said: ‘He who marks products will eventually mark people.’ This must stop now,” the prime minister said.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon responded with scorn to the Netanyahu’s request, saying he was trying to evade responsibility: “Netanyahu must really be in trouble if he’s lashing out at Meretz, at this rate he will soon forbid drawing of the Green Line on maps.” According to Galon, Netanyahu was trying to deflect criticism “by delegitimizing the left.”
Galon further said that the Israeli government already marks settlement products as part of its trade agreement with the European Union and the OECD. “There is no way Meretz will withdraw the bill which just clarifies – for Israeli consumers – the distinction between products made in Israel and those made in the territories it captured 48 years ago.”
According to the Meretz leader “if Netanyahu wants to cancel this distinction and the heavy price the settlements exact from Israel he is more than welcome to begin negotiating a permanent agreement [with the Palestinians] and end the occupation. Until then he will have to learn to live with the devastating ramifications of his policy.”
On Sunday Israel announced it plans to launch an intensive diplomatic effort to try and stop, or at least postpone, a planned European Union directive to label goods that originate in West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, senior officials told Haaretz.
Netanyahu elaborated on the “offensive” to contend with boycott calls across the world Sunday, saying that both the right and left of Israel’s political spectrum must stand together to “fend off the attackers.”
“As far as those leading the boycott calls are concerned, the settlements in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] are not the focus of the conflict, but rather our settlements in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, in Haifa and Jerusalem,” Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Barak Ravid contributed to this report