The European Union will dispatch a team to Israel this week in an effort to assuage concerns over its funding ban on Israeli institutions operating over the pre-1967 lines, the body’s foreign policy chief announced Saturday.
In a news conference with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, Catherine Ashton said that the EU would not be rescinding the new directive, which last month prompted the Israeli government to declare it would sever a string of joint projects with the European body.
However, Ashton asserted, “We, of course, want to continue to have a strong relationship with Israel.” She said the EU would send a team to Israel on Monday to make sure the implementation of the ban is done “very sensitively.”
The EU ban applies to grants, prizes and financial instruments and that the new funding guidelines go into effect in 2014. The EU issues dozens of grants, totaling millions of euros, to Israeli universities, companies and researchers every year.
The EU team is to be headed up by Pierre Vimont, the director of the European External Action Service, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official quoted in the report was upbeat about the prospects of the European mission to ease Israelis’ minds. “I have a sense that this is going in a positive way,” the official was quoted as saying.
On Sunday, Kerry is to hold talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in London.
The EU decision, announced in July, punctuated a nadir in international displeasure over Israeli settlements built on lands captured in the 1967 Six Day War. The announcement garnered dramatic responses across the Israeli political spectrum.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the EU decision, saying Israel would not accept foreign directives.
“We will not accept any foreign dictates about our borders. This matter will only be determined through direct negotiation between the [two] sides” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he stated.
The EU directives require members to cease any joint activity or funding with Israeli entities working over the Green Line in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and in the Golan Heights.
The Palestinians claim some of those territories — the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem — for a future state.
The measures also require any future agreements between Israel and the EU to include a clause in which Israel accepts the European Union’s position that all territory over the Green Line does not belong to Israel — a requirement that is anathema to Israel’s current government.
The restrictions are ostensibly meant to help Israel, by ensuring that it remains a recipient of EU funds, provided that the money doesn’t cross the Green Line, the EU has said. But officials in Jerusalem have said the measures will also serve to alienate Israel and predetermine its future borders.
Last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said Israel will forgo a research partnership with the EU worth hundreds of millions of dollars rather than accept an anti-settlement clause as part of such a deal.
Elkin said Israel could not sign on the Horizon 2020 research partnership unless the European Union removed a clause from its new settlement guidelines that forces Israel to acknowledge the country does not extend over the Green Line.
“We want to sign and we are ready to negotiate, but if the conditions are as they are today, which are unprecedented … we can’t sign,” Elkin said.
The EU has indicated that the new directives will go through, despite Israeli objections.