World

Israel blasts South African proposal on settlement goods

Amy Teibel

The Palestinian campaign to boycott goods from Jewish settlements in the West Bank has received a boost with an unprecedented South African proposal.

A file photograph from January 19 2009 shows Palestinians burning boxes of Israeli produce during a protest calling for a boycott of Israeli products after Israel's military operation in Gaza Strip, in the West Bank city of Nablus. (Nasser Ishtayeh, AP)

The Palestinian campaign to boycott goods produced in Jewish settlements in the West Bank has received a boost from abroad with an unprecedented South African proposal to have the name of Israel dropped from labels on merchandise made in the settlements.

The South African government issued a notice saying it wants to require merchants “not to incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory as products of Israel”.

The notice did not specify what the labels should say and the proposal has not yet taken effect, pending public objections that can be submitted through the end of June.

But Israel claims it is being singled out because special labels are not applied to products made in dozens of other places where territorial conflicts exist.

“All these things are characteristic of racism,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said on Sunday. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel would summon the South African ambassador to protest the proposal.

Palestinians and their supporters, inspired by the economic boycott of apartheid-era South Africa, have been trying for years to spark a punishing economic war on Israel to force it to end its occupation of lands Palestinians claim for a future state.

‘Challenge to Israel’
Their campaign of divestment and boycott has had negligible economic effect, but the voice of the South African government could be a symbolic boost. South Africa is not a major market for Israeli products.

Ghassan Khatib, spokesperson for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, praised the South African step, saying it constituted “a genuine challenge to Israel on its continuous violation of international law and the rights of the Palestinian people”. He also voiced hope it would help to shift Israeli public opinion in favour of the Palestinian position.

South Africa would be the first country to require such labelling, Palmor said.

Since 2009, the British government has allowed retailers to distinguish whether West Bank goods are produced by Palestinians or Israeli settlers.

And since 2005, an agreement between Israel and the European Union excludes produce from the West Bank from a preferential tariff rate.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank produce items such as wine, Dead Sea cosmetics and agricultural products, including dates.

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