‘Israel has been hit with a huge blow in the last 24 hours, with the EU issuing a directive banning its 28 members from providing funding to areas outside Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
The significance of the regulation is both practical and political. An EU official who spoke to Haaretz said that “from now on, if the Israeli government wants to sign agreements with the European Union or one of its member states, it will have to recognize in writing that the West Bank settlements are not part of Israel.”
THE DIRECTIVE UNPACKED:
The EU guidelines forbid any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing outside the West Bank, East Jerusalem and “areas beyond the ‘green-line.’ This includes the Golan Heights.
The EU statement says that “the guidelines are … in conformity with the EU’s longstanding position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law … irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law.”
The ruling determines the parameters for cooperation between the Union, along with its member states, and Israeli private and governmental entities between 2014 and 2020.
This comes off the back of the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, telling The Times of Israel only last month that the imposition of sanctions against Israel required a unanimous decision of the 28 member states and was therefore unlikely. “The EU is opposed to boycotts. This is not the way we operate in terms of our international relations,” he said.
POTENTIAL IMPLICATIONS ‘VERY WORRISOME.’
1. UNDERMINES KERRY’S PEACE INITIATIVE:
Almost all of Israel’s politicians, from both the right and left, agree that the EU embargo will only hinder the development of the diplomatic process. The irony is that the ‘guidelines,’ promoted by those who label themselves ‘peace workers,’ will likely discourage Abbas from returning to the negotiating table.
An analysis by the Jerusalem Post presents the argument simply. If the Palestinians see strong support from the Europeans for their position that the pre-1967 lines must be the starting point for talks, and that all construction beyond those lines must stop, then they will feel no rush to enter into talks. “Why start negotiations – in which they will, by the very nature of negotiations, have to compromise – if they assume that whatever happens, the Europeans will back their positions and blame Israel for the stalemate.”
This blow coincides with Kerry’s current revisit to the region, his second in only a few weeks. Regardless of whether one thinks that Kerry’s initiative is apt, or unlikely to cause progress, it is clear that he is working tirelessly to get both parties the negotiating table. In this way the directive reflects what many regard as the EU’s dismay at not having a central role in the diplomatic process. It is an attempt to put itself in the driving seat by bullying Israel into making concessions.
I recommend you read a great article written by Seth Mandel in Commentary magazine, where he says the EU move “almost makes you pity John Kerry… he has no choice but to walk right into the bear trap the EU has set for him.” He continues “this is not to suggest that the prospects for peace were any good before the EU got involved. But they have made Kerry’s task impossible.”
This is the sentiment adopted by the Israeli government, where the consensus amongst both the right and left is that the EU decision will only legitimize the Palestinian’s refusal to return to negotiations.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, said the banning of dealings with Israeli settlements is counterproductive to peace talks. He said “Palestinians have already set out pre-conditions which Israel has rejected as precursor for peace talks. “It certainly doesn’t add to the atmosphere of peace talks.” On the contrary, The EU decision will only “reduce their motivation to compromise with Israel in peace efforts.”
It is rare that Members of Knesset agree on anything. Yet opposition leader, Shelly Yachimovich agreed that growing diplomatic isolation posed as much of a strategic threat to Israel “as the advanced weaponry aimed against it by its enemies.” She continued “it is too bad that instead of supporting the Americans’ efforts to resume negotiations, the European Union is focusing on sanctions and boycotts.”
2. CRIPPLING FOR ISRAEL’S BANKING SECTOR
In last Friday’s Haaretz, journalist Yossi Verter broke a story saying that the relevant government ministries had received disturbing news that major banks in Europe “have been exploring the possibility of barring loans to Israeli companies that have a business or economic link with the occupied territories.” At the time, government officials denied the claims, yet now it is clear that this tip off was in fact accurate. You can see the full article here.
Indeed, the magnitude of the danger the EU motion poses to the Israeli economy is hard to overstate. The potential blacklisting of banks and companies with interests beyond the ‘green line’ could cripple the Israeli banking sector and local economy. It is economic blackmail.
What this means in practice, is that the EU’s banks’ investment committees have barred their institutions from providing loans, or any other assistance, to Israeli companies that manufacture, build or conduct commerce in the territories, or to banks that provide mortgage lending or loans to builders or buyers of housing in the territories.
For Israel this is a nightmare scenario that has been talked about in the past, and greatly feared.
3. INSTITUTIONAL AND INTELLECTUAL BOYCOTT
The ceasing of funding for universities and agricultural projects, as well as cooperation on research, as specified in the directive, is cause for grave concern.
The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which has the most students, falls beyond the ‘green-line.’ Would the EU halt all cooperation with the Hebrew University, for instance, since it employs staff who live beyond the 1967 lines, at the draconian limit of the directive? Or, would implementation prove near-impossible, and ultimately have little effect on the ground? At this stage officials are still unsure how far the EU will go. But the potential damage is frightening.
In an interview by the Times of Israel 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.”
It is important to note that the decision to boycott the collaboration of knowledge and research is being handed down by the same body that, despite conclusive findings of Hezbollah’s role in the Bulgaria bombings, still refuses to label it a terrorist organization.
Whether one supports sanctions on Israel, or is vehemently opposed to it, is irrelevant because one thing stands clear; the EU can no longer be perceived as neutral or objective.
ISRAEL’S CHOICELESS CHOICE:
Despite the constant drumbeat of pronouncements coming from Europe, Israel was still caught off guard by the EU’s pronouncement. These guidelines are the first concrete application of what many shrugged off as abstract policy.
In this regard it appears Israel has two options. It can seem to agree that the pre 1967 areas including East Jerusalem and the Golan heights are not part of Israel, or risk losing funding and opportunities provided by joint EU Israeli programs.
Netanyahu lashed out at the EU saying “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.”
It is indeed perplexing that at a time when the region is in turmoil, securing a boycott on Israel is the EU’s most pressing mission. This was echoed in a statement by Netanyahu when he said the Europeans should deal with “slightly more urgent” matters in the region, including the civil war in Syria and the Iranian nuclear program.
It is still unclear what exactly will come from the EU’s embargo. One thing is certain, however. Now more than ever, the Palestinians have no particular incentive to agree to return to the negotiating table. In the international world, time is working for the Palestinians and against Israel, and our support is gradually and persistently eroding.
AND IN OTHER, MORE UPLIFTING NEWS…
The 19th Maccabiah Games have kicked off with over 9000 athletes from 70 countries flocking to Israel to win gold.
Australia has sent a 400 person-team who will compete in 13 sports out of 35. The Aussies are competing to defend their epic performance in 2009 when they won 81 medals.
The country is abuzz as preparations for the opening ceremony at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium on Thursday night (Israel time) get underway.
Further, there are twenty one countries, including Cuba and Mongolia that are attending the games for the first time. I recommend you read a fascinating article about a sixty-one year old Israeli man, Maccabi Carasso, who visited 18 countries between June 2011 and January of this year, some multiple times, in an effort to recruit Jewish athletes to participate in the games. He paid for his visits to the former Yugoslavia, Latin America and the Caribbean, among other places, from his own pocket.
The Aussie team is constantly updating their Facebook page so that we at home can keep in touch and follow from afar. You can keep up to date with their activities and progress by checking the Maccabi Australia to Maccabiah games 2013Facebook page here.
Media and Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia