Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - An agreement between Israel and the European Union that will limit trade to products exported from Israel proper -- not exports from the disputed territories -- amounts to an anti-Semitic boycott, the mayor of one of the largest West Bank settlements said.
According to the agreement, initialed on Thursday, all goods coming from Israel must be labeled not only with the country of origin, but also the city of origin, to differentiate between products that come from Israel proper and those that come from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Brussels argued in a long-standing dispute that products exported from Israeli settlements and industrial zones in the territories, which were labeled "made in Israel," violated Israel's tariff-free agreement.
But the EU has used the issue to emphasize its disapproval of Israel's settlement policy. More than 200,000 Israelis live in Jewish communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip where the Palestinians want to establish a Jew-free state.
"The problem is the EU boycott [is] because of political reasons," said Ron Nachman, mayor of the city of Ariel in the northern West Bank.
"It is based on rising anti-Semitism in Europe. Instead of saying 'anti-Semitism,' they say 'anti-Israel.' That is the cover," Nachman charged.
(Ariel, a settlement of some 18,000 residents, is just 25 miles from the large Israeli city of Tel Aviv, but it is 13 miles into the West Bank and has its own industrial park at Barkan nearby.)
The agreement targets Israeli industry over the green line -- the 1949 ceasefire line between Israel and Jordan in the West Bank and Israel and Egypt in Gaza - and is an attempt to use economic means to apply political pressure on Israel, Nachman said.
"This is something very dangerous," he said. "It reminds me [of] Nazi Germany before they attacked Jewish people, before Kristalnacht they boycotted Jews and discriminated against Jews."
Nachman called the labeling restrictions a "boycott" on free trade and said it would dissuade investors from investing in the territories.
David Kriss, spokesman for the European Union in Tel Aviv, said that the agreement was never intended to have "political significance."
The agreement that was initialed but not yet signed, pending approval by the European Commission, is meant to lay down the procedure for settling the dispute, Kriss said.
Israel is now responsible for issuing instructions to the Israeli exporters to label goods with city name as well as the country, he said.
"The basis of the whole thing is Israel has agreed to mark geographic origin of everything exported to the EU. The export certificate [will now say] Tel Aviv, Israel or Barkan, Israel [and it will] be up to the European Union side to figure out where the cities are and impose the duties on everything on the other side of the green line," he said.
According to Kriss the free trade agreement applies only to Israel and not to the territories, even though the goods coming from the territories are from Israeli companies and concerns and exported via Israel.
"There is no other place in the world that exports beyond its borders and tries to represent it [as coming from that country]," Kriss said.
Exports to the EU from the territories are about $200 million a year. The maximum tax that would be levied on those goods is about eight percent or $16 million a year.
Products included in the dispute are palm oil, produce, plastics and other industrial products.
But even if the exports were a $500 million a year, the tariff would only be $40 million, said Nachman, who questioned whether that would solve the problem between Israel and the Palestinians or Israel and the Arab world or would make the Israeli government surrender.
Nachman pointed out that the Barkan industrial park just outside of Ariel employs 1,500 to 2,000 Palestinians. "Is it good for those 2000 Palestinian families [to have work] or bad? Is that the meaning of co-existence or not?" he asked.
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