Secretary of State John Kerry
Secretary of State John KerryReuters

The US administration has tried to brush off outrage over its January 23 "reissuing" of orders to importers to label all products from Judea and Samaria as not being from "Israel," but a legal group argues the announcement signals a policy shift.

The US Customs announcement was defended by US State Department spokesman Mark Toner last Thursday, who said that they were not a new policy, but rather a call to enforce the 1995 Customs decision on marking goods from the region.

However, Legal Grounds, an initiative founded in 2012 to promote Israel's rights based on international law, responded Sunday by noting a "re-issuance" is highly unusual since in such cases all that is needed is continued enforcement.

"Contrary to the State Department’s announcement, it appears that the decision to enforce the regulation now is inspired by the latest EU policy changes," said the group in a statement, noting the EU decision to label Jewish goods from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights.

Legal Grounds co-chair Arlene Kushner, a journalist, political analyst and author, said, "it is not simply re-issuance of an existing policy, as is being represented by official US sources, but a drastic re-interpretation of the original guidance."

Kushner explained that the original labeling policy was formulated following the 1994 Oslo Accords, in which the Palestinian Authority (PA) was formed and given civil control over the myriad of regions termed Areas A and B in Judea and Samaria. In the Accords the PA agreed to manage its own tariff revenue collection, she noted, making it fitting to label goods from PA-controlled areas separately.

The group argued their point by quoting then President Bill Clinton's presidential proclamation from the US Customs labeling decision in 1995, in which he implicitly states that goods from Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria will be identified as originating in Israel.

"The extension of the generalized system of preferences program to the West Bank and Gaza Strip pursuant to this proclamation applies only to goods produced in the areas for which arrangements are being established for Palestinian interim self-government," Clinton said at the time.

As noted, the new US Customs declaration calls for all goods from Judea and Samaria to be marked as originating from the "West Bank," and not "Israel," instead of only goods from PA-controlled areas as stated by Clinton.

"The US State Department is advancing a disingenuous position that masks its true intention of shifting policy," said Kushner's co-chair Jeff Daube, Israel director of the ZOA, which works in tandem with the Legal Grounds team on US matters..

"The Legal Grounds initiative calls upon Congress via the good offices of the respective Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs committees to immediately require the US State Department to clarify why such an announcement was necessary at this time," he added.

The criticism follows that of Samaria regional council head Yossi Dagan last Friday, who warned, "sources in the US are joining the anti-Semitic campaign against the state of Israel."