Palestinian officials welcomed the move as another lever to pressure Israel into halting expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a bone of contention which has stymied peace negotiations for more than a year and a half.
The move also raises fears that it will morph into a general boycott of all Israeli products – a stated goal of the Palestinian “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions" (BDS) movement.
A spokesman for the South African Embassy in Israel denied that the move amounts to a boycott because the country is not banning the import of products from the Jewish settlements. That said, the South African government wants to give citizens the option to avoid West Bank goods with transparent labeling.
“It’s just to give our buying public a choice whether or not to buy,” says Eugene Grobrer, the deputy head of mission at the South African Embassy in Israel. “It’s for the consumer to decide what to do because there is a lot of sympathy for the Palestinian cause.”
Though suburban towns have always been the most visible footprint of Israeli settlements established in the West Bank, there are several industrial zones around the West Bank which attract dozens of Israeli companies with government subsidies and tax breaks. Some of the settlements cultivate fields for agricultural exports.
In recent years, Mul-T-lock, an Israeli company acquired by a company in Sweden, relocated its facilities back across the Green Line into Israel, but it remains an exception.