It should be crystal clear to Danish consumers if a product they are about to purchase was made in an Israeli settlement, the foreign ministry announced earlier this week.
Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal wants to introduce a labeling system for all goods imported from West Bank settlements “which are illegal according to international law.”
“This is a step that will clearly demonstrate to consumers that these products are produced under conditions that, not only a Danish government, but European governments in general do not approve of. And so it is up to consumers whether they want to purchase the goods or not,” Soevndal said to Danish newspaper Politiken.
The labeling system will be offered to Danish supermarkets and they will be free to decide if they want to implement it or not. But Soevndal said he was confident that businesses will want to partake in the system and referred to Great Britain which implemented a similar arrangement “with great success.” Soevndal also has a firm belief that the settlement issue causes so much resentment that consumers will change their behavior.
“I am convinced that the labeling will have a very significant and direct impact on imports, but exactly how much is impossible to guess,” he said.
The Danish labeling initiative comes at a time when the European Union has agreed to tighten the monitoring of the trade agreement with Israel, which exempts goods produced in the Jewish state from customs duty.
With a better identification of the origin of the goods and improved documentation at customs, the EU is attempting to make sure that manufacturers producing the goods in illegal settlements do not profit from the duty-free agreement.
“Our intention is to ensure that the trade agreement with Israel is not being used to smuggle settlement products,” said Soevndal.
Soevdal added that the new Danish labeling system should be viewed in relation to the EU aim of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians “that is being made increasingly difficult to obtain due to settlements.”
“Therefore, we hope to show the Palestinians a world that is actually concerned that these illegal settlements should not be allowed to continue,” said Soevndal.
He was recently visited by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, to whom he pledged $20 million dollars in aid over the course of three years to help finance pensions and poverty programs.
Opposition parties, however, are not impressed with the new government labeling system.
“I’m surprised that this has to be a Danish initiative. If we were serious about the matter, it would have been raised within the EU and not just as a small national Danish issue,” Soeren Pind from the Venstre party told Politiken, adding that he believes it is merely an expression of “symbolic politics.”
“Sovndal knows nothing of what might be the borders to a new Palestinian state. And until they are negotiated, there is nothing illegal in this trade” Soeren Espersen from the far-right Danish People Party said.
Both Espersen and Pind said the labeling system targets Israel as a whole but Seovndal denied the accusation.
“This is an action that is not directed against Israel but against illegal settlements, so that we can easily handle.” he said.
The Danish decision comes days after South Africa, in an unprecedented move, proposed 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.”
Israel slated the decision and claimed it is being singled out since 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 spokesman Yigal Palmor said Sunday. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel would summon the South African ambassador to protest the proposal.
Earlier in May, Co-Op, the fifth largest UK supermarket chain, decided to extend their existing boycott of goods made in settlements to include companies sourcing products from such disputed regions.
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.