Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out on Tuesday against a new European Union directive that bars its 28 member states from cooperating with Israeli entities in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu said Israel wouldn’t accept dictates about its borders from any outside forces.
“As prime minister, I won’t allow hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in the West Bank, Golan Heights, and in Jerusalem — our united capital — to be harmed,” he said.
“I expect those who really want peace and regional stability to deal with this matter [of West Bank settlements] after they solve more pressing problems in the region like the Syrian civil war and Iran’s race to get a nuclear weapon.”
“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.
Netanyahu made the statements following an afternoon meeting in which he conferred with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin.
Later Tuesday, a bitter Bennett declared on Channel 2 that, “Catherine Ashton [the EU foreign policy chief] will not force us to hand over Jerusalem to our enemies.”
Bennett called the decision a “financial terror attack,” but downplayed its importance. “For 65 years, we have experienced embargoes and sanctions, and yet trade with Europe, China and the US has never been better,” he said.
Bennett added that the European move would likely mean a smaller role for Europe in the Israel-Palestinian peace process. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t ask to be involved in the process and at the same time take one-sided action.”
The EU directive, sent out on June 30 and set to take effect on Friday, extends to “all funding, cooperation, and the granting of scholarships, research grants and prizes” to Israeli entities in East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
It also requires that any contracts between EU member countries and Israel henceforth include a clause stating that East Jerusalem and the West Bank are not part of the state of Israel.
Livni, who is Israel’s chief representative in talks with the Palestinian Authority, called the move a “shocking wake up call,” adding that though it was unfortunate that Israel had reached this point, she hoped that it would convince those opposed to renewing peace talks that “negotiations are the only way to protect Israel’s diplomatic, security and financial interests.”
Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri said the new directive threatens to scuttle scientific research and partnership between Israelis and Europeans.
“The budgetary implication is a potential 40% hit to the budget for academic research and development which is transferred to Israeli scientists at universities,” Peri said. “The decision will cause Israeli universities to compete with one hand tied behind their back over research grants from EU programs.”
Sandra de Waele, the deputy EU ambassador to Israel, said the measure was designed to ensure that EU financial support “not benefit [Israeli] entities” beyond the Green Line, because it was the EU’s position that such entities were illegal. She said there had been concern that these entities had indeed been benefiting from EU funds. She stressed that the directive would not affect private businesses.
A senior Israeli official told Haaretz earlier on Tuesday that the ruling was an “earthquake,” which unprecedentedly turns “understandings and quiet agreements that the Union does not work beyond the Green Line” into “formal, binding policy.”
The move was widely reported in the Hebrew media as marking an “EU boycott” and signifying an EU bid to force Israel back to its pre-1967 lines. Bennett rejected the “boycott” designation, however, as did other Israeli officials.
Channel 2 reported on Tuesday night that Israel was privately asking the EU to suspend implementation of the directive, at least until its practical implications could be clarified. If the move turned out to be limited to funds directly reaching settlements, that would be unpleasant but not catastrophic, according to the assessment in Jerusalem. If, however, it amounted to a boycott on all Israeli activity beyond the 1967 lines, that would be more drastic.
The TV station also noted, however, that Israel had agreed to a clause acknowledging that the West Bank and East Jerusalem were not part of Israel when signing its “open skies” air travel agreement with the EU in April — precisely as the EU’s new directive now requires.
A Foreign Ministry official told Yedioth Ahronoth that the EU only handed Israel a copy of the directive at the beginning of the week. “We suspect that many of the member states’ foreign ministers were out of the picture,” the Israeli official said. “Netanyahu will demand explanations from Ashton and may even demand the process be halted.”
The new directive, initiated in December by the EU foreign ministers, is “in conformity with the EU’s long-standing position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and with the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territories, irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law,” the EU said in a statement.
In an Army Radio interview, Elkin called the decision worrying, and said it would strengthen the Palestinians’ stance — reducing their motivation to compromise with Israel in peace efforts.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid called the EU’s decision “miserable” and ill-timed, and said he planned to make it clear to Israel’s friends that their decision only serves to push peace further away.
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich said the growing diplomatic isolation posed as much of a strategic threat to Israel as the advanced weaponry aimed against it by its enemies. “It is too bad that instead of supporting the Americans’ efforts to resume negotiations [between Israel and the Palestinians], the European Union is focusing on sanctions and boycotts,” she added.
The European Union has been reported to be mulling sanctions against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem for some time, with new rules on the table for labeling products produced over the Green Line.
Europe has long opposed much of Israel’s policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in March EU foreign policy chief Ashton was the latest to call for implementing the labeling of products produced in the settlements for sale in Europe.
Channel 2 quoted an unnamed diplomat from an Eastern European member of the EU expressing some discomfort at the new directive. This diplomat reportedly said his country would work to prevent any harm to Israel in new EU directives, but also clarified that he was powerless to reverse the provisions of directives already issued.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.