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By refusing to drastically amend its settlement guidelines, EU reopens debate on occupation within Israeli elites

The EU’s new settlement guidelines, which were published last summer, put limits on loans to Israeli businesses operating beyond the Green Line and forbid EU financing of projects in settlements. Right-wing ministers are demanding that Israel reject the new terms, while centrists would like to avoid international isolation. 

File photo of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister is looking for a solution which will allow his government to continue cooperation with the EU while maintaining its freedom to settle the West Bank. (Photo: Moshe Milner/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held two long cabinet meetings with senior ministers on Sunday regarding the difficulty in reaching an agreement with the EU over its new ‘settlement guidelines’ for joint projects with Israel, Israeli media reported. Netanyahu instructed Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to try and reach a deal that would end the impasse within the next couple of weeks – the deadline for entering the prestigious Horizon 2020 program, which could bring NIS 1.5 billion ($400 million) to Israel in the form of research and developments grants.

Last summer, the EU published a Commission Notice with new guidelines regarding projects in Israel. According to the guidelines, projects which are carried out in Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line will not be eligible for EU grants of prizes, and organizations which operate beyond the Green Line will not be eligible for EU loans and financial instruments. You can read the full guidelines here.

Israel rejected the guidelines, demanding that it receive the grants and loans on its own terms. Israeli ministers fear that the guidelines will serve as a precedent that would limit not only the government but also the private sector’s ability to conduct its business in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in the Golan Hights. Officials have expressed fear that banks that provide settlers with subsidized mortgages or franchises that open branches in the settlements will suffer in the future. However, with the much-desired Horizon 2020 program coming up, Israel asked the EU to negotiate a “softer” version of the guidelines, one which would, in the words of an Israeli official, allow the government “to march with [the guidelines] but not feel them.”

Israel agreed not to use European money beyond the Green Line but asked that the provision regarding activities in the Occupied Territories not be included in agreements Israeli institutions are asked to sign, Haaretz reported. Israel also asked to introduce a new mechanism which will deal with loan requests, rather than an across-the-board commitment that prevents recipient organizations from operating in the OPT.

Israeli is also demanding that the EU state the guidelines will not prejudice or be binding in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. According to the reports, the EU agreed to the last term, but rejected the others.

In the urgent meetings Prime Minister Netanyahu called yesterday conflicts arose between right-wing politicians like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy, Ze’ev Elkin, who demanded to reject the guidelines, and Yesh Atid’s ministers Ya’akov Peri and education minister Shai Piron, who want to join the EU programs at any cost. Netanyahu, it seems, would like to have Israel join the Horizon 2020 program but also do as much as he can to maintain the government’s freedom to settle the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

A final note: When the guidelines were published by Barak Ravid on Haaretz, I wrote that after years of condemnations for Israel’s settlement activities, this was the day Europe finally got Israel’s attention. Ravid himself once told me that in terms of political and diplomatic effect, this might have been his most important exposé ever.

Despite the very modest effect the guidelines could actually have on the ground – one might say that all they are meant to do is allow the EU to continue its support for Israel while distancing itself from the settlements – the commission notice sent shockwaves through the political system. Only a couple of weeks before they were published, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett boasted that “the world doesn’t care” about the settlements. Now, for the first time in decades, a serious debate has started among local elites about what isolation the occupation could cause Israel. The centrist Yesh Atid party was forced to examine the implications of its own political pact with the settlers, and the heads of the universities will now think twice before extending their work beyond the Green Line.

This national conversation – long overdue – is more important than anything in the guidelines themselves.

Related:
Why the EU shouldn’t amend its new settlement guidelines
What’s in the new EU guidelines regarding activities beyond the Green Line?
The day Europe got Israel’s attention

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Diplomacy is fascinating! Imagine Israel trying to get EU to alter a guideline whose purpose is precisely to hamper Israel! Chutzpah!

      And, of course, this guideline is SO SMALL, SO INSIGNIFICANT. EU should be refusing all imports any part of which was made/grown in OPTs by an Israeli company.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      I don’t understand why EU is negotiating with Israel at all.

      Here are the rules and here is the timetable. Don’t like it? Don’t join Horizon 2020.

      There’s really no desire or need for comment from Israel. These rules are the product of European, if not worldwide, reaction to what Israel is doing with other people’s land and natural resources. “Other People’s” because it is “Occupied Territory”.

      Israel isn’t even part of the EU, they have no say in EU. And of course what Israel proposes completely reverses the rules. Israel isn’t negotiating, it’s erasing. Typical.

      Yes, I say typical Israeli behavior. Like nothing that everyone else lives by is supposed touch them. Like words can have different meanings when we’re talking about advantages for Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >I don’t understand why EU is negotiating with Israel at all.

        Maybe because these guidelines are racist in their basis?

        Any law which is directed against certain group of people is discriminatory and racist by definition.

        Guidelines do not demand that ANY business operating inside ANY territory considered “belligerently occupied” is not eligible for grants, for doing so would exclude largest non-EU partners.

        Reply to Comment
        • shmuel

          Or may Trespasser that you didn’t understand the guidelines? You always use the word racist. From what you usually write is not surprising.

          Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          That’s the same as saying laws directed at criminals are discriminatory and racist. Laws against horse thieves are discriminatory and racist.

          Laws are meant to discourage some behavior. In this case EU laws are discouraging their money from being sent to, well, to criminals in the eyes of international law. What Israel is doing in the Occupied Territory is criminal and EU is making a law that they won’t support it.

          Isn’t the EU sovereign? Can’t they make their own laws? How is Israel’s input required at all?

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >That’s the same as saying laws directed at criminals are discriminatory and racist. Laws against horse thieves are discriminatory and racist.

            Well, a law which demands that only Gypsies for example, should be punished for stealing horses, is discriminatory and racist.

            >Laws are meant to discourage some behavior.

            Encourage, discourage, coerce into, prevent from. Yes.

            >In this case EU laws are discouraging their money from being sent to, well, to criminals in the eyes of international law

            Israel is supposed to recieve much less than China or Russia.

            The very fact that international law is not applied equally makes this whole issue not more than a racist slur.

            >What Israel is doing in the Occupied Territory is criminal and EU is making a law that they won’t support it.

            Yes, exactly, the EU is making a law which is against Israel specifically, not all and any offenders.

            >Isn’t the EU sovereign? Can’t they make their own laws?

            As long as their laws are not discriminatory and racist, they surely can.

            >How is Israel’s input required at all?

            You suppose Israelis would just sit and look as some antisemites in EU council wreak havoc? ;)

            Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            “Well, a law which demands that only Gypsies for example, should be punished for stealing horses, is discriminatory and racist.”

            Would you say the same about a law that only allows Jews to return?

            Reply to Comment
          • Samuel

            “Would you say the same about a law that only allows Jews to return?”

            I would say that given the history of the Jewish people and the persecutions that we were subject to as minorities in multiple countries, over 2000 years, it is not racist to have laws which give priority to Jewish immigration in order to maintain a Jewish majority in our country. Call it affirmative action, you have heard of that concept in another context and I bet you did not call it racist in THAT context, David, did you?

            So I hope you won’t mind me describing you as a racist for promoting the idea that we Jews alone amongst all people have not got the right to remain a majority in our own country. One country on this earth which is Jewish and it bothers you so much David? Why are you such an intolerant hater? There are already 22 Arab Muslim countries and I never hear you complaining about that David. Why not?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Richard Lightbown

      This merely confirms the potential of the EU to restrain human rights abuses if only it would stop following its policy of apeasement towards Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    4. ‘Only a couple of weeks before they were published, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett boasted that “the world doesn’t care” about the settlements.’

      This statement of Bennett suggest two things. 1) Bennett then believed Israel was essentially immune from outside interference on the tenure of settlements and their expansion; 2) his promise to provide full Israeli citizenship to prior Palestinian residents is a lie, as Israel is immune to violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and its own alterations in land law and ownership. Full equal protection can not be granted given how settlements have procured their land in many instances while maintaining the integrity of these settlements. Bennett is offering a full good, don’t look, and turn away option.

      Reply to Comment
      • er, “feel good,” not “full good.” I blame the spelling corrector! Never me.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        1) Bennett thinks that the impact of settlements on istael’s international relations is marginal. He is right. Moreover if there is a price to pay for settlements he would pay it and continue building.

        2) Bennett never said he would give citizenship to all the Palestinians. He said he would give citizenship to those few that are in area C if Israel were to annex it as per his plan.

        Reply to Comment
        • On point 2, I know. By ‘prior Palestinian residents” I meant those in the Israeli controlled areas, using controlled in a full sense.

          And it wouldn’t work, as some of these new citizens would have land claims nullified by the settlements. Equal protection would be denied.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            If there are no Israeli security forces and no Israeli justice system and no Israeli laws and no Israelis, then no, those areas are not *controlled* by Israel. This is like one of those silly arguments where someone claims that Gaza is “controlled” by Israel despite being entirely cut off from Israel and run by a group that has as a goal Israel’s destruction.

            If some of these new citizens have land claims they would be dealt with by the Israeli justice system. I don’t know what ‘it’ is that wouldn’t work, but they would certainly have the same rights as all Israelis.

            Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          On point 1, it strongly appears to show Israel’s (through Bennett’s) true objectives. It strongly appears that all the peace talks, all the diplomacy is not genuine. Putting the word Democratic in the name of the State is not genuine. It strongly appears to be the use of subterfuge for our consumption, that is to say deceit. It strongly appears to be really all about, only about, continuing to build and expand Eretz Israel according to the Zionist ideal.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            The Democracy is quite genuine. Notice that Bennett went from being a private citizen to being a Minister in about a year and a half of work. He is only there because he managed to get the votes. And he certainly represents quite a few people that have no desire to have peace talks and are more than interested in continuing to build and expand Jewish control over Israel. Other parties, like Livni’s and Labor have other ideas about what the Zionist ideal is.

            Bennett represents a party with 10% of the seats in the Knesset. Between Lapid and Livni there are twice as many seats that are certainly interested in peace talks. Trying to define the “true” objectives of a country with quite a few different parties and opinions on the basis of Bennett seems rather silly. This is like defining the ‘true objectives’ of America on the basis of the opinions of Ted Cruz and the 10% or so of the population he probably represents.

            Reply to Comment

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