In breakthrough, Israel and EU to sign science cooperation deal
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In breakthrough, Israel and EU to sign science cooperation deal

Jerusalem's participation in lucrative Horizon 2020 project was held up over European guidelines barring settlement funding

Chancellor of the Ariel University Yigal Cohen Orgad (left) and Minister Yuval Steinitz at a cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new Faculty of Science building at the school in January. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Chancellor of the Ariel University Yigal Cohen Orgad (left) and Minister Yuval Steinitz at a cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new Faculty of Science building at the school in January. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

After negotiations reached an impasse earlier this week, Israel is expected to sign an agreement with the European Union to guarantee involvement in a multimillion-euro scientific cooperation agreement.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni spent hours on the phone Tuesday with EU officials hammering out a compromise agreement.

Late Tuesday, Israel released what it said was a joint statement with the EU, saying that the compromise had been reached through discussions between Livni and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

“The agreement fully respects the EU’s legal and financial requirements while at the same time respecting Israel’s political sensitivities and preserving its principled positions,” the statement said. “The agreement will allow Israel’s scientific community to benefit from one of the most important EU programs and facilitate its further integration into the European space of research and innovation.”

The deal over Israel’s participation in the Horizon 2020 research partnership program has been held up over controversial new EU guidelines that bar Israeli institutions in the West Bank from receiving EU funding.

The crisis centered around the interpretation of those directives, which deny any kind of financial support for Israeli projects outside the country’s internationally recognized borders. Jerusalem feared that the cooperation agreement would be akin to an admission that territories beyond the Green Line are not part of the State of Israel.

According to Channel 2, Israel will add a clause stating that it does not accept the EU’s definition of territory beyond the 1967 lines.

While there is no deadline to Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020, the program starts in January, and researchers can begin applying for funding next month, which is why Israelis considered December 1 the latest date by which a compromise could be found and an agreement signed.

On Monday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed senior officials to continue negotiations with the EU over the exact phrasing of an agreement that would amend the guidelines. He asked Livni to contact Ashton in a bid to help solve the crisis.

Published in July, the EU guidelines mandate a denial of European funding to, and cooperation with, Israeli institutions based or operating over the Green Line, and a requirement that all future agreements between Israel and the EU include a clause in which Israel accepts the position that none of the territory over the Green Line belongs to Israel.

Jerusalem rejected the territorial clause and proposed an amended version of the guidelines that accepts the EU’s position on ineligibility of funding for settlements but would prevent Israel from explicitly endorsing such a standpoint, Israeli diplomatic sources told The Times of Israel. “The Europeans said they really want Israel to join Horizon 2020, but then they did not react to our proposal beyond offering some minor changes here and there,” an Israeli official said.

“We can’t accept the agreement like this.”

To participate in Horizon 2020, Israel will contribute about €500 million and expect €1.4 billion (some $1.9 billion) in return over several years. Many in Israel’s scientific community feared that a failure to reach an agreement could cause severe damage to the country’s international standing. “It’s an existential threat for academic research,” Hebrew University president Menachem Ben-Sasson told Army Radio on Tuesday.

“Our understanding is that the Israeli government has accepted the fundamental principle that the EU has a policy that says that we don’t want to use money in the settlements,” the EU’s ambassador-designate Lars Faaborg-Andersen told The Times of Israel. “And the Israeli government has formulated [its proposal] in a way that they don’t agree with that policy but accept that this is our policy.”

However, Faaborg-Andersen reiterated that Brussels will implement its directives as planned on January 1.

Senior EU officials insist that the guidelines do not require Israel to adapt the EU position on the settlements. They also affirmed that in determining eligibility for funding, only an entity’s place of establishment and the location of where the activity is carried out would be considered, in contrast to the Israeli understanding of the guidelines.

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