MEP accuses Israel of ‘blatant violation’ of trade agreement

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Series Details Vol 7, No.13, 29.3.01, p6
Publication Date 29/03/2001
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Date: 29/03/01

By Simon Taylor

MEPs are calling on member states and the European Commission to ensure that Israel does not abuse its trade deal with the EU by exporting goods made in the Palestinian territories.

The development comes after Israel launched air attacks yesterday (28 March) on Gaza and Ramallah in response to a Palestinian bomb attack.

A group of Euro MPs from the four largest political groups are seeking assurances that Israel is not taking advantage of the preferential terms of a trade and cooperation agreement with the Union. Under international law, the occupied territories are not part of Israel.

Dutch Liberal MEP Lousewies van der Laan, a member of the Parliament's delegation for relations with the Palestinians, said: "What Israel is doing is a blatant violation of the trade agreement."

She urged EU governments and the Commission to ensure that the Israelis were fulfilling their legal obligations under the agreement despite the Union's desire to play a constructive role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. "The reluctance of member states and the Commission to deal with this shows that they are using political sensitivity to avoid applying the rule of law," she said.

Van der Laan called for firm action if the terms of the EU's agreement are being broken. "If the EU is serious about the rule of law we have to act on all violations," the MEP said.

The Palestinians have been putting strong pressure on the Union to clamp down on any abuses of the agreement, arguing that failure to do so represents a de facto recognition of Israeli's occupation of the territories.

But the timing of the issue is problematic for the EU and the Commission because they do not want to antagonise the new national unity government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

At last week's Stockholm summit Union leaders asked foreign policy chief Javier Solana to report back to them in June on how the EU can play a bigger role in restarting the peace process.

Israel's ambassador to the EU, Harry Kney-Tal, accused MEPs of trying to exploit a situation for political ends. "This is a technical problem and a customs problem, but I'm not oblivious to attempts to politicise the issue," he said. "I don't know why the [European] Parliament is so interested in this apart from the pressure of the Palestinian lobby."

But he admitted that Israel and the Union "have a different interpretation" of whether the goods are eligible for export under the terms of the agreement.

Kney-Tal said the issue would be dealt with following the procedures set out in the association agreement, starting with discussions in a special customs committee that is due to meet in June. But he said that the dispute would be resolved when there was an agreement with the Palestinians on Israel's borders.

"In the long run these problems will be resolved once the customs borders of Israel are determined and this will be decided by the outcome of political negotiations," he said.

The cross-party group of MEPs is tabling written questions to the EU executive in the coming weeks. Commission officials say they are waiting to get responses from Israel on the question before deciding.

Customs authorities in seven member states have asked for evidence that products marked as coming from Israel were actually manufactured in the country's internationally recognised territory.

Israel has until April to submit its first set of replies under the terms of its 1995 Association Agreement with the EU, which allows it to export goods to the Union at reduced tariff rates.

MEPs are calling on Member States and the European Commission to ensure that Israel does not abuse its trade deal with the EU by exporting goods made in the Palestinian territories.

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