The Palestinian Authority applauded South Africa on Thursday after its cabinet voted to identify goods made in the occupied West Bank as separate from normal Israeli products.
Abdul Hafiz Nofal, the PA’s deputy economy minister, thanked South Africa’s ambassador for the decision to label settlement goods as products of "Occupied Palestinian Territory" rather than "Israel."
"Giving those products a mark to distinguish them will prevent Israel from disguising them as Israeli products rather than settlement products," Nofal told Ma’an.
The South African cabinet approved the measure Wednesday "requiring the labeling of goods or products emanating from IOT (Israeli-occupied territory) to prevent consumers being led to believe that such goods come from Israel."
Pretoria’s decision quickly raised Israeli concerns that other states could follow suit and bolster calls by Palestinians to boycott Israeli products made in the occupied West Bank.
Nofal says this is why the decision is important; it will make the products not only easier to tax but will also indicate to consumers which products to boycott should they choose to exclude settlement goods.
The PA economy ministry has expressed its appreciation to the South African envoy in Ramallah and indicated its readiness to provide authorities with information about settlement goods.
Israel, on the other hand, has summoned Pretoria’s ambassador to Tel Aviv in order to lodge a protest over the decision, the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement.
A day earlier a top Israeli official accused South Africa of behaving like an "apartheid state".
"Unfortunately it turns out the change that has begun in South Africa over the years has not brought about any basic change in the country, and it remains an apartheid state," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said.
"At the moment South Africa’s apartheid is aimed at Israel," added Ayalon, a nationalist hardliner in right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, late Wednesday.
Ayalon did not elaborate on what he meant by associating the labeling decision with apartheid.
A separate statement from the foreign ministry hinted at racist undertones behind the decision and accused South Africa of "blatant discrimination" for passing the "totally unacceptable" measure.
"Such exclusion and discrimination bring to mind ideas of racist nature which the government of South Africa, more than any other, should have wholly rejected," the ministry said.
There was no immediate response from South Africa, but the rhetoric is likely to strain Israel’s relations with the country, whose ruling African National Congress fought to end the apartheid regime.
The ANC had strongly backed the Palestinian cause while Israel was one of the few countries to have strong ties with South Africa’s white-minority government, which relinquished power in 1994.
When Pretoria first proposed the measure in May, Israeli Industry and Trade Minister Shalom Simhon said it would be a problem if other countries did the same thing.
Israel criticized Britain in 2009 for advising supermarkets to label produce from Jewish settlements clearly, to distinguish them from goods produced by Palestinians.
The European Union grants a tariff exemption to imports from Israel but not to those coming from the West Bank and other territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
The World Court has ruled that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law and Palestinians say they will deny them the viable state they seek in the territory and in the Gaza Strip.
Israel says the future of settlements should be decided through peace talks, which have been frozen since 2010, largely over the settlement issue.
Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza in 2005. About 2.5 million Palestinians and 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel also took in the 1967 war.