Despite heavy criticism from Israel, the European Union will not cancel, modify or delay the implementation of recently published guidelines that block EU funding from Israeli institutions either located or maintaining any links beyond the Green Line, a top EU official said .
“The guidelines will take effect as they are. This is how they were published [in the EU’s Official Journal], as a legal act, and that’s how it will be,” Ambassador Andreas Reinicke, the EU’s special representative to the Middle East peace process, told The Times of Israel last week. In certain areas where the guidelines are still unclear, “a closer look” at the details might be have to be taken, he allowed. But their main points will not be changed and will take effect by January 2014 as planned.
The EU’s directive, published last month, mandates 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 all territory over the Green Line does not belong to Israel.
The exact formulation of this so-called territorial clause has yet to be determined and will likely be the subject of heated discussions between Israeli and European officials.
Brussels is also determined to introduce a labeling regime for settlement products by the end of 2013.
‘I’ve spoken to lots of European foreign ministers. Most of them said, that’s not what we intended’
In the wake of the new funding guidelines, the Israeli government is currently discussing whether to participate in a multibillion-dollar scientific cooperation program under EU auspices called Horizon 2020.
While Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly advocates nixing all cooperation with the EU – even it that means financial losses — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to consult with other key cabinet ministers and professionals and make a final decision next week.
Academics warn that if Israel opted out of Horizon 2020, the negative impact on the country’s scientific standing would be “devastating.”
Israelis from across right to center-left on the political spectrum protested the EU’s new guidelines. An angry Netanyahu said Israel “will not accept any outside diktat about our borders.” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon instructed troops to halt cooperation with EU representatives in the West Bank and Gaza. President Shimon Peres asked the EU to “delay” the decision at least until after the current round of US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, however, said the guidelines’ publication was a “classic case of enthusiastic clerks taking something too far,” suggesting that top EU diplomats themselves were overwhelmed by the decision and are currently considering changing the wording to make it more acceptable to Israel.
“I’ve spoken to lots of European foreign ministers. We spoke to the ambassadors. Most of them said, that’s not what we intended,” Elkin told The Times of Israel in an interview last month. “Clearly it doesn’t represent all the EU members,” he said, adding that some foreign ministers told him they didn’t mean to paralyze Israeli-European cooperation and that if that were the outcome of the move, then it had to be reviewed.
Indeed, not all European capitals were enthusiastic about the issuance of the funding guidelines. The German government, for instance, distanced itself from the move, with the ruling CDU party’s foreign policy spokesman saying it was “purely ideological and symbolic,” as evidenced by the fact that in the past seven years, only 0.5 percent of the €800 million in financial assistance that Brussels gave to Israel went to projects beyond the Green Line.
But Reinicke told The Times of Israel that several EU foreign ministers explicitly welcomed the funding guidelines at the July 22 Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, and asserted that they were merely the implementation of existing EU legislation. The EU does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the 1967 lines, and last year’s promotion of Ariel University Center, located in the West Bank, to a full-fledged university prompted the need to issue clear guidelines regarding funding Israeli institutions. While Ariel University’s elevated status wasn’t the only reason for the new guidelines, it was “certainly an important trigger for this entire discussion,” Reinicke said.
The fact that any agreement between the EU and Israeli recipients must state their inapplicability to territories outside the 1967 lines by no means preempts the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Reinicke also said.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is correct when he says that the borders between Israel and Palestine will not be imposed from outside but that they will determined by both parties,” Reinicke said. “That’s also our position. If there will be an agreement, our definition of Israel’s territory will change. Until that moment — and that is not only the position of the EU but that of the entire international community except Israel – [Israeli sovereignty of territories beyond the 1967 lines] is not recognized.”
Brussels’ insistence that the funding guidelines will not be amended means Israeli leaders will have to decide whether to go ahead with the Horizon 2020 agreement, which pumps money into research and innovation cooperation. According to Hebrew media reports, the EU is willing to leave out or rephrase the so-called territorial clause, making it easier for Israel, the only non-European country invited to join the program, to sign a bilateral agreement. But this has not been confirmed.
If Israel signs, it will have to contribute a certain amount of money but can expect about 1.3 shekels in return for every shekel invested. According to EU officials, Israel stands to gain more than €100 million over the course of six years. A decision against joining the program would thus result in Israeli scientists forfeiting millions of shekels.
Even more than a financial loss, though, will be the forfeiture of the chance to collaborate with Europe’s research community, according to Prof. Isaiah (Shy) Arkin, vice president for research and development at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“The interaction between European scientists is of utmost importance to us and to Israel as a whole,” he told The Times of Israel. “It is not only the direct funding, the monetary impact, but in addition to that — and more importantly — the collaboration and the access to scientific knowledge and infrastructure in Europe.”
Along with the United States, Europe is the one of the world’s most important scientific hubs, Arkin said. “And for us not to be closely and intimately associated with the European scientists will be devastating to our capabilities.”
Israeli scientists and their European counterparts could still talk to each other and cooperate on projects even if Jerusalem decided to withdraw from Horizon 2020, Arkin allowed. “But the amount of research that will take place between Israelis and Europeans will drop dramatically.”