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Israel Suspends Some Contacts with EU in Labeling Dispute

  • VOA News

FILE - Bottles of wine produced in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank are on display at a supermarket in Jerusalem Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.

FILE - Bottles of wine produced in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank are on display at a supermarket in Jerusalem Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.

Israel has suspended diplomatic contacts with the European Union related to the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to protest an EU move to separately label products manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and other Israeli occupied territories.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the move Sunday, saying contacts with EU bodies and their representatives will remain suspended until his government completes a reevaluation process.

Netanyahu did not disclose details of the diplomatic freeze and did not say which institutions will be affected.

Sunday's announcement caps weeks of rising diplomatic tensions with the EU, the 28-country trade bloc that has sought to pressure Israel to ease West Bank settlement expansion.

European governments contend that lands seized by Israel in the 1967 war - the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Syria's Golan Heights - are not part of Israel's internationally recognized borders. Palestinian leaders consider the settlements illegal and have repeatedly cited settlement expansion as a primary obstacle to any lasting regional peace.

Earlier this month, the EU published new guidelines for labeling settlement products - a move Israel promptly blasted as discriminatory and politically motivated.

The guidelines, drawn up over several years, require Israeli producers to clearly label farm goods and other products sold in EU countries, as part of an apparent push to facilitate consumer boycotts by Europeans opposed to Israeli settlements.

The EU is Israel's top trade partner, with total annual import-export commerce valued at $32 billion. There are no official statistics on the value of imports from Israeli settlements.

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