EU denies labelling of settler goods delayed

The European Union on Monday denied an Israeli media report that it was delaying labelling of products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Haaretz newspaper reported on Sunday that the EU had delayed labelling the products to end of June at the request of the United States.

"Contrary to what was recently reported in the Israeli media, work on the effective enforcement of EU legislation with regard to the labelling of settlement products has not been delayed. Nor has the EU been asked to postpone such work," a statement said.

Haaretz said that US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, intervened with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at Israel's request.

Kerry is expected Thursday in Jerusalem and Ramallah, his fourth such trip since March.

Hanan Ashrawi, executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had strongly criticised the EU after the Haaretz report but on Monday clarified that "there has been no change in EU positions and no American attempts to seek a delay in the labelling of illegal settlement products."

EU foreign ministers, including Britain's William Hague and Laurent Fabius of France, said they would back the labelling initiative, in a letter obtained by AFP last month.

Signatories also included the chief diplomats of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

Britain and Denmark have been at the forefront of calls for clear and unambiguous labelling of settlement products.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, are illegal under international law. Goods produced in them are not eligible for the same preferential tariffs enjoyed by Israeli exports to the EU.

Israel refuses to specific labelling of goods produced in the settlements, merely providing postal codes of origin.

According to 2012 World Bank figures, the EU imports 230 million euros ($300 million) of goods a year from Israeli settlements -- or 15 times more than from Palestinians themselves.