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Israel won’t join EU research program, top diplomat says

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin says Jerusalem will forgo lucrative Horizon 2020 partnership unless Europe changes new settlement rules

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Immigration Minister Ze'ev Elkin. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Immigration Minister Ze'ev Elkin. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said Friday.

Elkin told Israel Radio that 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.

Negotiations between Israel and the EU on signing Horizon 2020 are to begin in the coming days.

Elkin’s statement came a day after ministers decided they would not sign any deals with the EU unless it clarified its new regulations.

New EU guidelines say partnership agreements with Israel must state clearly they are not applicable to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. They also state no Israeli body that operates — or has links — beyond the Green Line can receive EU funding or have any cooperation with the EU. The guidelines, widely pilloried in Jerusalem, were introduced to show the EU’s growing dismay over Israeli settlement expansion on land the Palestinians want for a state.

The issue is coming to a head over Horizon 2020, a seven-year European grant program that begins in 2014. Israel is the only non-EU country invited, and analysts have said participation could net Israel hundreds of millions of shekels in research grants. Academics have warned that if Israel opted out of Horizon 2020, the negative impact on the country’s scientific standing would be “devastating.”

The top ministers who met Thursday “did not make a decision specific to Horizon 2020,” a government source told The Times of Israel, “but they all agreed that the new EU guidelines are detrimental to the possible success of the peace talks with the Palestinians.”

According to the Hebrew news site Walla, however, Israel will inform the EU early next week that it will not participate in Horizon 2020 unless Brussels clarifies its guidelines.

Last week, Andreas Reinicke, the EU’s special representative to the Middle East peace process, told The Times of Israel that the EU would not cancel, modify or delay the implementation of the recently published guidelines, which are set to go into effect next year.

Zahava Gal-on of the dovish Meretz Party said the government is acting recklessly by endangering Israel’s participation in the grant program.

“This is what a sinking ship looks like when its captains decide to establish the State of Judea (biblical term for the West Bank) while destroying the future of Israel,” she told Israel Radio. “Because this is destroying the scientific future of Israel, Israeli research.”

It remains unclear how much wiggling room, if any, negotiators would have.

Europe might want to avoid a showdown with Israel at a time when Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are finally under way, following a five-year freeze. Negotiations resumed last month.

On Friday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann said the EU Commission, the 28-nation bloc’s executive arm, is aware of media reports that Israel is planning to seek clarifications.

“We stand ready to organize discussions during which such clarifications can be provided and look forward to continued successful EU-Israel cooperation, including in the area of scientific cooperation,” he said.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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