Dutch probing Ahava's settlement status
Herb Keinon [Jerusalem Post] 15 December 2009 -- A Dutch decision to investigate whether - contrary to EU regulations - Ahava is benefiting from lower tariffs given to Israeli-made products when its cosmetics are made in a settlement, has nothing to do with a recent British decision to advise retailers to mark products from Jewish areas beyond the Green Line.
According to Ilan Cohen, the spokesman at the Dutch Embassy in Tel Aviv, a recent decision by the Dutch Foreign Minister to ask the country's Finance Ministry to look into the matter happened well before last week's decision in Britain.
Ahava manufactures its products in Mitzpe Shalem, a kibbutz on the northern bank of the Dead Sea that is part of the Megillot Regional Council. The company has recently been targeted for a boycott by various anti-Israel organizations abroad.
Cohen confirmed that Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen had asked that the matter be looked into after a parliamentary question made by Harry van Bommel, an MP for the Socialist party.
Cohen said that the inquiry has to do only with Ahava products, and not other products coming from the settlements. He did not say when the inquiry would be complete, and stressed that the issue was a "tax issue."
A spokesman for Ahava declined to comment.
The Netherlands is currently considered one of the countries more supportive of Israel inside the EU, and recently came out against the unsuccessful Swedish initiative, backed by Britain and Ireland, to have the EU recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
According to Israeli-EU agreements, Israel is only obligated to mark that a product was made in Israel, followed by a zip code that would indicate to the tax authorities whether the product could enter with lower duties, as a product made from inside the Green Line, or whether higher tariffs applied because it was made in a West Bank settlement.
The situation in Britain, however, is different, one Foreign Ministry official pointed out, saying that the British took the EU regulations one step further, by advising retailers to mark whether products were made in settlements or by Palestinians.
According to guidelines released by the British Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Thursday, "Traders and retailers may wish to indicate whether the product originated from an Israeli settlement or from Palestinian producers. This could take the form, for example, of 'Produce of the West Bank (Israeli settlement produce)' or 'Produce of the West Bank (Palestinian produce)', as appropriate."
Defra Secretary of State Hilary Benn said the guidelines were in response to consumer demand for information about the origin of produce from the West Bank.