Reports from Wall Street Journal 1), Guardian 2) and Ha’aretz 3).
New Guidelines Meant to Keep EU Funds Away From Settler Groups
By Laurence Norman and Joshua Mitnick, Wall Street Journal
July 16, 2013
BRUSSELS—A fresh dispute broke out Tuesday between Israel and the European Union as Brussels prepares to issue guidelines that aim to keep EU funds from flowing to Israeli settler organizations in the occupied territories.
The row comes at a key moment in the often-rocky ties between Israel and the EU. Next week, EU member states could fulfill a long-standing Israeli request to add the military wing of Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to its terror list. There are also calls within the EU for a tougher stance on Israeli settlement activities and stricter application of rules on labeling exports to the EU from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Under the planned guidelines, entities based in the occupied territories would be banned from receiving grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the common EU budget from January 2014. Individuals wouldn’t be affected and taxpayer money from the EU’s 28 member states also wouldn’t be subject to the rules. The guidelines are set to be published Friday, officials said.
The EU is negotiating an agreement with Israel on research and innovation funding that could benefit Israeli universities, among others, and a deal on greater cooperation between EU police unit Europol and Israeli authorities. The guidelines would require these kinds of accords to include a clause specifying that EU resources couldn’t be used in the occupied territories, officials said. However, since they are guidelines, there would be some flexibility in how they are applied.
A spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc wants Israel to “make use of all possibilities offered” in its budget. She said there have only been a limited number of cases of EU funding reaching organizations based in the occupied territories since some previous agreements between Israel and the EU carried similar limits on use of funds.
But she said the decision was in line with the EU’s “long-standing position” that Israeli settlements are illegal and that the EU doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied territories.
“These guidelines were prepared in order to implement the [European] Commission’s commitment to make a distinction…between the state of Israel and the occupied territories,” said the spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic.
Even as European officials and diplomats emphasized the incremental nature of the decision, many Israeli and Palestinian politicians portrayed it as a big policy shift against Israel in the Palestinians’ favor.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said it is a negative decision that tightens existing limitations on EU activities with Israeli settlements. He told Israel Army Radio that while Israel has encountered such EU limitations before, the decision could prompt EU member states to demand similar limitations in bilateral agreements.
The EU move comes on the eve of a visit to the region this week by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has held several inconclusive rounds of shuttle diplomacy in recent months to persuade Israel and the Palestinians to restart peace talks. Many Israelis fear that if peace negotiations remain in a stalemate, the Jewish state will eventually face an economic boycott on all its products.
The EU has long sought to play a role in Middle East peace talks and has recently been urging direct talks between the two sides. But Brussels has come under fire from Israeli politicians, who accuse the EU of siding with the Palestinians on key issues. At the same time, Palestinians have urged the EU to go further in criticizing Israeli policy.
With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations deadlocked for years, Israel has been facing increasing international isolation and criticism over its policy of expanding settlement construction, activity criticized by the international community as jeopardizing the creation of a Palestinian state.
Israeli Energy Minister Silvan Shalom, a former foreign minister, said in an interview with Army Radio that the new policy “proves, again, regretfully, how detached Europe is and how it cannot be a genuine and balanced partner in negotiations with the Palestinians.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization welcomed the EU decision, with Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi describing the decision as a significant evolution of European policy toward the peace process.
“The EU has moved from the level of statements, declarations and denunciations to effective policy decisions and concrete steps,” she said in a statement. This will “have a positive impact on the peace process.”
‘Earthquake’ directive will prohibit EU states from signing deals with Israel unless settlement exclusion clause is included
By Harriet Sherwood, guardian.co.uk
July 16, 2013
Jerusalem–Future agreements between the European Union and Israel must include the explicit exclusion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, according to a new EU directive described by an Israeli official as an “earthquake”.
The EU guidelines, adopted on 30 June, will prohibit the issuing of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships unless a settlement exclusion clause is included. Israeli institutions and bodies situated across the pre-1967 Green Line will be automatically ineligible.
The Israeli government will be required to state in any future agreements with the EU that settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are outside the state of Israel.
The directive, part of the 2014-20 financial framework, covers all areas of co-operation between the EU and Israel, including economics, science, culture, sports and academia. It does not cover trade, such as produce and goods originating in settlements.
An EU statement said the guidelines “set out the territorial limitations under which the commission will award EU support to Israeli entities … Concern has been expressed in Europe that Israeli entities in the occupied territories could benefit from EU support. The purpose of these guidelines is to make a distinction between the state of Israel and the occupied territories when it comes to EU support.”
The move follows a decision by EU foreign ministers last December that “all agreements between the state of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967”. All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.
“The EU is trying to force Israel to adopt its position on settlements,” said an Israeli official. “Israel will have to explicitly express in writing the EU’s position. We don’t believe the EU’s position should be forced down our throats like geese.” He said it was impossible for Israel to agree to such a demand.
The directive would affect “all realms of co-operation”, he added, and would result in “rising tension and increased friction” and “create a lot of bad blood”.
Another Israeli official told Haaretz, which disclosed the new guidelines, the move was an “earthquake” which unprecedentedly turns “understandings and quiet agreements that the [EU] does not work beyond the Green Line” into “formal, binding policy”.
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the guidelines. “The EU has moved from the level of statements, declarations and denunciations to effective policy decisions and concrete steps which constitute a qualitative shift that will have a positive impact on the chances of peace,” she said.
“The Israeli occupation must be held to account, and Israel must comply with international and humanitarian law and the requirements for justice and peace.”
The new requirements would affect the EuroMed Youth agreement, under negotiation, which involves joint youth projects and exchanges, said Haaretz.
Another example would be applications from Israel to the EU’s research and technical development programme, an EU source told the Guardian.
Israel has become increasingly concerned about the EU adopting a more robust stance against settlements. Some member states are pressing for an EU-wide policy of labelling produce and goods originating in settlements to allow consumers to make informed choices on purchases.
The directive was a “big mistake”, Ze’ev Elkin, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, told Army Radio. “This is more fuel for Palestinian rejectionism.”
Another minister, Silvan Shalom, said: “Once again, Europe has demonstrated just how detached it is, how it can’t really be a full partner to the negotiations.”
The directive emerged as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, arrived in the region on his sixth visit in a drive to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He is expected to meet the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Amman on Tuesday.
Unusually, Kerry is not scheduled to visit Jerusalem or meet with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Some analysts have suggested this is because Israel has signed up to Kerry’s parameters for a resumption of talks, but he still needs agreement from the Palestinian side.
However, an unnamed Israeli minister was reported by Israel Radio as saying that Netanyahu’s primary objective was merely to show willingness to negotiate and that he did not intend to engage in a far-reaching peace process.
The sense that Israel was not truly interested in ending the occupation pushed the EU to turn unwritten rules into official, binding ones.
By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
July 16, 2013
Protesters in France call for a boycott of Israeli products. Photo by AP
In 2005, after a year of discussions, Israel and the European Union signed an updated free trade agreement. The main demand by the Europeans was a clause stating customs exemptions do not apply to West Bank and East Jerusalem settlement products.
Ehud Olmert, the industry, trade and labor minister at the time, was not thrilled with that clause. Olmert and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon realized it was tantamount to Israel formally recognizing that settlements were not part of Israeli territory. In the balance was every free trade agreement between Israel and the EU – agreements that were worth billions of shekels to Israel’s economy. Prioritizing the economic benefit to Israel over the settlements, Olmert signed the agreement.
It is doubtful whether such an agreement would be signed in Israel’s political reality of 2013. It’s hard to imagine Economy Minister Naftali Bennett agreeing to be part of an Israeli government that officially recognizes the settlements are not part of its sovereign territory. Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said several times since the start of his term that he wouldn’t have signed such an agreement. Most of Likud ministers probably agree with him.
If so far the Europeans demanded such a clause only for customs exemptions, now they have tightened the rules. From now on, the EU will demand that in every agreement, Israel recognize the areas over the Green Line in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied territory. The demand will affect all areas of life for the average Israeli — scientific cooperation, youth exchanges, culture, agriculture, sports, tourism. The list goes on.
The stalled peace process, concern over the future of the two-state solution, and most importantly, the sense that the Israeli government was not truly interested in ending the occupation pushed the EU to turn unwritten rules into official, binding and documented ones. Other similar measures are underway, such as marking settlement products sold in supermarkets and even demanding settlers obtain a visa when traveling to the EU.
The Europeans seek to build a “Great Wall of China” between their relations with the legitimate State of Israel and their relations with the illegal settlement state. They claim that by doing so, they are preempting the slippery slope that could lead to a general boycott against Israeli products in Europe, like the one imposed on South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Bennett, who was interviewed on every possible platform since he returned from China some days ago, claims Israel’s international status has never been better. He dismissed the examples of Israel’s isolation in the world as “concoctions” and the warnings of coming boycotts as mere whining. Bennett is wrong. The EU’s move shows how low Israel’s status in Europe has sunk and how dangerous the creeping international isolation is.
“No one on earth is interested in the Palestinian issue,” Bennett said last week in an interview with Army Radio. “What interests the world from Beijing to Washington to Brussels is Israeli high-tech… We have a provincial way of thinking that the world revolves around us, but it revolves around the economy.”
Bennett is right. Israeli technology, Israeli films and Israeli Nobel laureates are very much in demand in the world. And it’s true – the world really does revolve around the economy. That’s precisely why the European Union’s latest move proves that the Israeli government’s settlement policy and the continued occupation are a clear and present danger to the economy.
What will settlement advocates in the government do when it’s time to sign the next agreement to bring European investments, scholarships and grants to Israel? What will Bennett do? What will Tourism Minister Uzi Landau do? What will Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan do? We must hope that, like Olmert, they will choose the State of Israel over the state of the settlements.