Ramallah: The Palestinian leadership welcomed the European Union’s decision to label products from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, DPA reported.
“We welcome this decision and consider it a significant move toward a total boycott of Israeli settlements, which are built illegally on occupied Palestinian lands,' says Saeb Erekat, a top aide to President Mahmoud Abbas and senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
“It shows, the EU is moving from statements to concrete actions. More such actions 'are necessary to hold Israel accountable for the crimes it continues to commit against the land and people of Palestine,” he said.
Dr Mustafa Bargouthi, a senior member of PLO, described the EU measure as an "important initial step that would open the door to boycott Israeli products made in the occupied territories".
"The EU decision sends the message that the Israeli occupation is illegitimate and all the byproducts of that occupation, including business and commerce, should also be delegitimized," he said.
The European Commission has introduced new labeling guidelines for products produced in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The law requires that producers must explicitly label products that come from settlements built on land occupied by Israel if they are sold in the European Union (EU).
The step reflects EU policy which considers building settlements and manufacturing facilities in the occupied territories as illegal.
The move drew an angry response from the Israeli government, with the foreign ministry issuing a statement denouncing the EU measure.
The Israeli government had strongly lobbied European countries and leaders, arguing against the labeling of Israeli products.
In the statement, the Israeli foreign ministry called the EU's decision "exceptional" and "discriminatory". Writing on his Facebook page, the Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz described the measure as "disguised anti-Semitism."
Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since the 1967 war. Under international law, Israel is prohibited form building settlements in the occupied territories, Al Jazeera reported.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Tuesday that Israel should not be surprised by the EU decision to label products produced in the settlements. He also stressed the US position that it "opposes any efforts to delegitimize the state of Israel".
At the same time, Toner affirmed that the US policy on the issue of Israeli settlements has not changed. "We believe settlements are illegitimate and are harmful to prospects to peace for peace and to Israel's long-term security," he said.
The EU is Israel's largest trading partner, amounting to approximately $32bn in 2014. Israel and the EU are parties to the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which took effect in 2000 and regulates the trade between them.
Israel is also part of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership (Euromed) agreement which include 16 European and Arab countries in the region. The Euromed intends to foster economic integration between the countries in the Mediterranean region.