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EU – Israel standoff on EC guidelines

Two articles by Barak Ravid in Ha’aretz are followed by one from the pro-settler media outlet Arutz Sheva.

Israel-EU rift deepening after talks over settlement funding ban hit impasse

EU representative rejects Israel’s conditions concerning European funding for institutions operating beyond the Green Line; Horizon 2020 joint project in question.

By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
November 25, 2013

The crisis between Israel and the European Union over new economic sanctions against Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line is deepening.

Negotiations between the sides over the last two weeks over the conditions for signing the Horizon 2020 scientific cooperation initiative have all but hit an impasse, after the EU rejected most of Israel’s compromise proposals concerning European ban on funding entities in the West Bank settlements.

In July, the European Commission issued new guidelines regarding funding of entities in the West Bank settlements by EU funds. The new guidelines prohibit funds and agencies from giving grants, scholarships, or prizes to Israeli entities in the settlements or to activities in the settlements. In some cases, the guidelines forbid giving loans to Israeli entities that operate directly or indirectly beyond the 1967 lines.

The guidelines also stress that every agreement between Israel and EU has to include a territorial clause that will stipulate that the agreement does not include the settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Golan Heights. Due to the new guidelines, the agreement on the scientific cooperation initiative Horizon 2020 has become a point of contention between Israel and the EU.

The Horizon 2020 agreement would provide Israeli research institutes and high-tech companies with hundreds of millions of euros in funding over the next several years. If Israel does not sign, the country’s R&D stands to lose about 500 million euros (roughly NIS 2.5 billion) over the period. The Committee of University Heads and the Council for Higher Education’s Budgeting and Planning Committee have expressed great concern over the damage to Israeli academia if the agreement is not signed.


Pierre Vimont, Secretary-General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is headed by Lady Ashton.

On November 5, Rafi Barak, the outgoing director general of the Foreign Ministry, wrote to Pierre Vimont, the deputy to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Barak proposed a compromise that would let the Horizon 2020 agreement be signed, and gave details in a videoconference the next day.

For the first time, the Israeli side said it was willing to accept the EU’s policy “not to transfer money and funding” to the settlements. Israel asked that a provision be added that Israel did not recognize this funding policy as setting permanent borders in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Israeli side also demanded that the EU’s new guidelines on the settlements not be stated directly in the agreement.

As opposed to the stipulations in the new guidelines, Israel demanded that Israeli agencies seeking EU funding not be required to state that they are not based or do not operate over the Green Line. Instead, Israel asked that Israeli agencies be required to indicate on the application whether they meet all conditions for receiving EU funding.

Israel also asked that the EU not forbid loans to agencies that operate indirectly in the settlements, and proposed the establishment of a mechanism to address the issue of loans.

Senior Foreign Ministry officials said that on Friday, Vimont sent a response to Barak rejecting most of the proposed compromise. For example, the Europeans turned down Israel’s demand to remove the new guidelines on the settlements. The EU wants the agreement to include an “attachment” stating that the agreement’s conditions do not prevent the European Commission from implementing the guidelines on the settlements.

The Foreign Ministry officials said this clause breaches the oral understandings between the sides and constitutes a withdrawal from the positions that the EU stated during the talks.

The EU also rejected Israel’s demand to remove the clause prohibiting the indirect funding of agencies that operate in the settlements. Regarding loans, EU officials said they feared that no way would be found to ensure that EU funds did not eventually reach the settlements. They said the EU was unwilling to back down on the issue.

Foreign Ministry officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, who is responsible for this issue, see this clause as untenable under any circumstances. They say it harms Israeli firms even if they only have branches in the West Bank, such as fuel companies, energy companies and banks.

The EU also demands that Israel’s recognition of its policy on the settlements not just focus on EU funding. The EU now demands Israel’s consent to the following clause:

In accordance with EU policy this agreement shall not apply to the geographic areas that came under the administration of the state of Israel after 5th of June 1967. This position should not be construed as prejudging Israel’s principled position on this matter. Accordingly the parties agree that the application of this agreement is without prejudice to the status of those areas.

The EU granted Israel’s demand that Israeli companies not be required to state that they are not located in or do not operate in the settlements. It also accepted Israel’s proposal that Israeli agencies only indicate that they will abide by the grant’s conditions.

The Europeans’ answer stoked anger at the Foreign Ministry. Foreign Ministry officials said they were shocked that the EU was unwilling to compromise, even though Israel had shown flexibility and a willingness to recognize the EU’s policy against funding the settlements.

“The response shows the built-in intransigence of the EU’s bureaucracy in Brussels,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said. “They told us that they wanted to find a solution to the crisis, that Ashton had ordered them to fix it and that they wanted us in the agreement. But then they sent us an answer they knew perfectly well we couldn’t accept.”

Israel has not yet sent an official reply to the Europeans; it has only two weeks to decide whether to sign the Horizon 2020 agreement. The senior Foreign Ministry official said the EU’s answer was unsatisfactory and would not let Israel sign the agreement. “The first impression is that this is not acceptable,” he said.

Israeli officials admit that if Israel does not sign the agreement within a week it could lose European R&D grants for its universities. But senior Foreign Ministry officials say Israel can join later on.

In any case, Jerusalem intends to keep trying to soften the EU stance; it will ask European countries that support its position to put pressure on Brussels. “The game isn’t over yet,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.


Netanyahu orders additional talks with EU over scientific cooperation pact

After late-night discussion with ministers, Netanyahu tells diplomats to work toward compromise; Top Foreign Ministry officials stake out firm position: Don’t sign deal as is.

By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
November 26, 2013

Following two emergency meetings to discuss the rift with the European Union over the Horizon 2020 scientific cooperation initiative, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided overnight Monday to continue seeking a compromise that would enable Israel to sign the pact.

“In light of the difficulties in the talks with the European Union, Netanyahu ordered us to work to change the agreement so that it can be signed,” a high-ranking diplomatic source in Jerusalem said.

Recent negotiations between the sides over the terms for signing the Horizon 2020 initiative all but hit an impasse, after the EU rejected most of Israel’s compromise proposals concerning the European ban on funding entities in West Bank settlements.

In July, the European Commission issued new guidelines regarding EU funding of entities in the West Bank settlements. The new guidelines prohibit funds and agencies from giving grants, scholarships, or prizes to Israeli entities in the settlements or to activities in the settlements. In some cases, the guidelines forbid giving loans to Israeli entities that operate directly or indirectly beyond the 1967 lines.

The guidelines also stress that every agreement between Israel and EU has to include a territorial clause that stipulates the agreement does not include the settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Golan Heights. Due to the new guidelines, the agreement on the scientific cooperation initiative Horizon 2020 has become a point of contention between Israel and the EU.

The Horizon 2020 agreement would provide Israeli research institutes and high-tech companies with hundreds of millions of euros in funding over the next several years. If Israel does not sign, the country’s R&D stands to lose about 500 million euros (roughly NIS 2.5 billion) over the period. The Committee of University Heads and the Council for Higher Education’s Budgeting and Planning Committee have expressed great concern over the damage to Israeli academia if the agreement is not signed.

‘Signing would be capitulating’

Netanyahu’s decision comes after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy, Zeev Elkin, took a hardline on the issue on Monday, saying Israel should not sign the deal under the current conditions, in light of the fact that the EU had rejected all of Israel’s proposed compromises.

“Signing the agreement would be capitulating,” Lieberman said at the meeting.


Avigdor Lieberman on 6th November, the day he was cleared of corruption charges and returned to control of Israel’s foreign ministry.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to speak with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday, to ask her to intervene and help resolve the crisis.

Livni and Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry took the opposing view from Lieberman and Elkin at the meeting, saying that Israel could not afford to give up the European investment.

Netanyahu had held an initial meeting to address the rift with the EU earlier Monday.

During that meeting, the premier was updated about the EU’s rejection of most of the compromise proposals Israel submitted regarding the transfer of funding to settlements within the context of signing the Horizon 2020 initiative.

Senior Economy Ministry officials noted that most of the requests for grants that are approved are submitted in the first week after the deal is signed – in other words, in the next 10 days.

EU rejects Israeli demands

On Friday, Pierre Vimont, Ashton’s deputy, sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry rejecting most of the proposed Israeli compromise on the language of Horizon 2020 agreement. The Europeans turned down Israel’s demand to remove the new guidelines on the settlements. The EU wants the agreement to include an “attachment” stating that the agreement’s conditions do not prevent the European Commission from implementing the guidelines on the settlements.

The Foreign Ministry officials said this clause breaches oral understandings between the sides and backtracks on positions that the EU stated during the talks.

The EU also rejected Israel’s demand to remove the clause prohibiting the indirect funding of agencies that operate in the settlements. Regarding loans, EU officials said they feared that no way would be found to ensure that EU funds did not eventually reach the settlements. They said the EU was unwilling to back down on the issue.

Foreign Ministry officials, including Elkin, who is responsible for this issue, see this clause as untenable under any circumstances. They say it harms Israeli firms even if they only have branches in the West Bank, such as fuel companies, energy companies and banks.

The EU also demands that Israel’s recognition of its policy on the settlements not just focus on EU funding. The EU now demands Israel’s consent to the following clause:

“In accordance with EU policy this agreement shall not apply to the geographic areas that came under the administration of the state of Israel after 5th of June 1967. This position should not be construed as prejudging Israel’s principled position on this matter. Accordingly the parties agree that the application of this agreement is without prejudice to the status of those areas.”



Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Jacob Perry). Photo by Yossi Zeliger

EU Rejects Netanyahu’s Compromise Attempt on Boycott

In urgent meeting with Ministers, Netanyahu instructs resumption of negotiations with EU to soften their boycott of Judea, Samaria.

By Tova Dvorin, Arutz Sheva Staff
November 26, 2013

The EU has rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s compromise attempts over its boycott of Israel beyond 1949 Armistice Lines, AFP reports.

The move comes following a midnight debate late Monday at the Knesset, during which Netanyahu called an emergency meeting with ministers over the losses the boycott may cause the Israeli scientific community.

“The compromise solution we proposed … was ignored. They made us wait two weeks to finally tell us, ‘take it or leave it’,” the Israeli diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. “The cabinet ministers met yesterday but no decision has yet been taken and it’s unlikely the EU will change its position,” he said.

An EU spokesman denied there had been a full rejection of Israel’s proposal, however. “Negotiations are ongoing … in the context of how the guidelines will fit into the Horizon 2020 agreement,” David Kriss said, of the multi-billion-dollar scientific research project.

According to a Walla! report, Monday’s meeting was convened after the negotiations between Israel and the EU on the issue, which must be completed this week, ran into difficulties.

At the end of the meeting, Netanyahu decided that Israel will continue its efforts to to be accepted in the prestigious program, for non-participation in the program would lead to a loss of more than two billion dollars for scientific research in Israel.

Netanyahu embraced the position of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Minister of Science and Technology Yaakov Peri, and his national security adviser Yossi Cohen – and rejected the rigid position of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Deputy Ze’ev Elkin. The latter two demanded that Israel not buckle to international pressure.
Elkin clarified at the hearing that he supports Israel’s joining the agreement, but “not at any price.” Elkin believes, like many Israelis, that the EU’s demands on Israel are too high.

At the end of the meeting, Livni reportedly asked Netanyahu to speak with Catherine Ashton, the Foreign Minister of the EU, and attempt to persuade her to soften the European position on Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria.

According to Walla!, Jerusalem agreed weeks ago to commit to participate in the conference, temporarily including only those institutions within the 1949 Armistice lines.

Israel had demanded, however, that the EU stipulate that the provision is only temporary. The EU has refused, claiming that it will continue boycotting Israeli villages politically, economically, and systemically as per policy.

Israel has maintained that the EU guidelines are trying to impose new borders on Israel via trade sanctions rather than through ongoing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. In fact, Israel has said, the boycott hurts negotiations rather than promotes them.

The discussion last night was heated and especially long – it lasted more than four hours and ended at 2:00 a.m.

Political drama also unfolded Monday morning. At 7:00 a.m., Peri discovered that Elkin had plans to send a particularly sharply-worded letter to EU officials in protest of the international body’s refusal to compromise with Israel in negotiations over the boycott issue. The letter, as he understood it, led Peri to believe that negotiations would ultimately fail – severing Israel’s ties to the EU.

Peri made ​​contact urgently with Netanyahu, declaring that the PM needed to stop Elkin from causing an international incident. The PM met with senior officials in the afternoon to decide a definitive course of action on the issue, which eventually ballooned into the late-night discussion.

Links
Eminent Europeans and Israelis urge EC not to go soft on Guidelines
Behind the scenes of the EC Guidelines
EC guidelines on EU funds for Israeli bodies
Israel’s reputation for innovation at stake in EU’s Horizon 2020
Fall-out in Israel over exclusion from EU

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