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Why the EU shouldn't amend its new settlement guidelines

This might be remembered as a key moment in determining the future of the occupation. In an effort to preserve the alliance with settlers and maintain its current settlement policies, the government will demand key provisions of the EU guidelines be changed or postponed. 

Catherine Ashton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (European Union / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of the most important rounds of talks on the future of the territories Israel occupied in 1967 is about to take place – and it’s not the meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators this week.

The Israeli government is seeking to modify the new guidelines set by the European Union, which will forbid cooperation with Israeli institutions that operate beyond the Green Line. A special ministerial panel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decided on Thursday to approach the EU and demand several key amendments in the guidelines before entering any new projects with the Europeans.

The EU’s Commission Notice is due to come into effect on January 1, 2014. One of its first articles states that, “the EU does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty” in any of the territories captured in 1967, including the Golan and East Jerusalem, “irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law.” The EU, therefore, will not enter projects with organizations that are based or operate in the occupied territories. The Israeli party to such projects will need to guarantee that it is not involved in such activities.

The guidelines do not apply to individual states or to government institutions and Israeli individuals, meaning that a person can still reside beyond the Green Line and take part in a joint project. But a University, for example, cannot. You can read the full four-page Commission Notice here.

The guidelines came at an important moment, just as Israel was about to enter the Horizon 2020 scientific program with the EU. Referred to as “the flagship of Israeli-European cooperation,” Horizon 2020 will provide Israel with an estimated 300 million euro support for scientific research, as well as exposure to key markets and projects. Israel is the only non-EU state which was invited to take part in Horizon 2020.

The Netanyahu government is reluctant to sign the cooperation agreement under the new terms for two main reasons: a) it fears future implications regarding the ability of Israeli companies and institutions to operate freely in the West Bank, in the way they have until now; and, b) the government is publicly committed to a policy of settlement expansion, and its electoral majority is based on an alliance with settlers.

The government specifically opposes the clauses that condition loans or grants from the EU on Israeli institutions or companies providing statements or signing articles guaranteeing that they have no direct or indirect connections with groups, institutions and companies in the West Bank. Not wanting to give up European loans and joint projects altogether, the government decided to present its reservation to the EU, and then enter negotiations that would lead to the necessary amendments in the guidelines.

Last week, several Israeli sources repeated the claim that the new guidelines hurt the peace talks.

***

It is absolutely vital that the EU holds on to its original decision and not allow major changes in the guidelines or postpone their implementation. It is, in fact, one of those rare moments when the wrong step could have major long-term implications.

The Commission Notice had a profound impact on the Israeli political conversation. In the past, Israelis have learned to accept condemnations of their governments’ settlement activities. The general feeling is that those statements actually reflect a lack of interest in the Palestinian issue. “The world doesn’t care,” was a favorite line with government ministers in recent years, and it was proven right in many instances: when Israel decided to legalize outposts; when a government-appointed committee declared all settlement activities to be lawful under international law; when Israeli cultural institutions began opening branches in the Occupied Territories; when the first University in a settlement was open; when the education minister began a program of school trips to the settlement inside occupied Hebron.

The new guidelines sent shockwaves through the political system, starting a debate over the price Israelis might pay for the occupation. Horizon 2020 – a program very few Israelis knew about – is now making national headlines. The reason is not a sudden interest in science, but the price tag that was attached to a continuing insistence on settlement activities.

***

The government knows that the mainstream’s tacit support for the settlements is at risk, so it chose its line very carefully. It didn’t reject the guidelines completely, nor did it withdraw from Horizon 2020. Instead, it chose to seek amendments that will allow it to continue its current policies and not push the settlers out of the coalition.

The special ministerial panel’s decision was declared “unanimous,” and all subsequent public statements were coordinated, obviously in an effort to present a firm line in the negotiations with the EU. But there is no real agreement among the ministers. The more pragmatic elements in the coalition – Justice Minister Livni and Yesh Atid ministers – are against withdrawing from Horizon 2020. Science Minister Yaakov Perri even went on record on the issue, as did Finance Minister Yair Lapid (in response to a question on Facebook, see here, though Lapid says that the way to do it is to get the EU guidelines changed).

Actually, even Naftali Bennett, head of the settlers’ “Jewish Home” party, reportedly said that his opposition to entering Horizon 2020 under the new guidelines is no more than “a personal opinion,” hinting that he might be willing to lose a government vote on this issue but remain in the coalition. But even if Bennett chooses to leave the government, Labor, which currently heads the opposition, has already indicated that it would support the government as long as the peace process continues, so such a move will only increase the Israeli commitment to negotiations.

There is also the less likely option, that the government decides to withdraw from Horizon 2020 and all subsequent programs. Such a move, however, will have immediate positive consequences on the political debate, as Israelis will need to address – for the first time since Bush 41 conditioned loans on a settlement freeze the early nineties – a certain cost which is attached to the occupation and ongoing settlement activity. Contrary to government statements, this debate will increase the public support for the peace process, as it will be made clear that failure to reach an agreement will have serious implications for Israeli institutions, and that even Israel’s presence in East Jerusalem and the so-called settlements blocs could only be legitimized through an agreement, and not by unilateral actions.

Naturally, the government would rather keep things as they are and maintain the alliance between centrist elements and the settlers. This is the reason it decided to call the Europeans’ bluff by presenting firm opposition to the new guidelines. I suspect that behind closed doors Israeli negotiators will float threats on the limits the government would impose on EU activities if the guidelines are not changed – from support for human right organizations to freedom of travel for EU representatives. But such confrontations are inevitable, and in fact, Israeli public opinion – especially within the elite - is far from being united behind the coalition on those matters. I can’t imagine any candidate for prime minister campaigning on the idea that he scarified relations with the EU for another project in the West Bank. It simply won’t work.

On the other hand, if the EU does agree to amend the guidelines, it will prove – and more important, perceived this way by the Israeli public – that settlements do not carry a political price and that the threats of international isolation were indeed, as the settlers were saying all these years, hollow or made up. One cannot imagine a more disastrous outcome for the effort to end the occupation. If that’s the case, it would have been better not to issue the guidelines in the first place.

Related:
What’s in the new EU guidelines regarding activities beyond the Green Line?
Report: New settlement construction coordinated with U.S. administration
The day Europe got Israel’s attention

 

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    1. Kolumn9

      If Israel is forced to withdraw from the Horizon 2020 program the Israeli government will have no choice but to paint Europe as a bunch of antisemites and feed into the fertile and perpetual narrative of Europe hating Jews. The people that categorically wouldn’t subscribe to this view don’t vote for the right anyway. The right (and the government) will wave the flag of defending Jerusalem and Netanyahu will be the chief flagwaver. He will say something along the lines of “while we are trying to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict Europe is trying to force Israel into making concessions on Jerusalem before talks even have a chance of a successful resolution”. He will say that he rejects European interference and his base will support it while those to the right of him will ferment public opinion against all European political meddling in Israeli affairs in both the West Bank (in terms of EU funded projects) and in Israel (in terms of EU funded extreme left-wing NGOs). This reaction is pretty much inevitable since the alternative of accepting that Europe justifiably decided to boycott the settlements and Jerusalem is pretty much inconceivable even among the more left-wing members of the coalition.

      So, in return for Israel giving up about $71M/year in European funding of R&D the right might be able to bankrupt all the extreme left-wing NGOs sponsored primarily by European organizations while creating a hostile atmosphere for peace talks. From a purely selfish view on the right the trade-off might even be worthwhile. They might even copy the language that the EU used in its guidelines for creating exceptions for Israeli left-wing NGOs that operate in the West Bank. What would the Europeans accomplish from such a scenario? Would they bring us any closer to peace? Seems doubtful. Nor does the idea make sense that Bennett leaving the coalition and Labor coming in will make the Israeli government more committed to negotiations. Netanyahu, faced with attacks from the right from both the outside (Bennett) and the inside (Danon, Hotovely, Feiglin, Levin, etc..) is more likely to sacrifice the negotiations than to accept being painted as a prime minister that is weak on Jerusalem, security and settlements which are pretty much inevitable charges following the customary leaks from the negotiations table. Internally giving up the negotiations is safer than having to run for control of the right-wing against Bennett after functioning as a punching bag for nine months and sitting in a government with Meirav Michaeli and all this with little actual chance at this early stage to hold much hope for an agreement in the end.

      If the EU wants to encourage peace talks it will change its guidelines rather than forcing a right-wing Israeli government on the defensive into taking positions that in the short-term will make it significantly less likely to be flexible in talks. There is very little likelihood that this government can accept the guidelines as they are currently phrased and there is little choice for this government but to react loudly and self-righteously to a blatant European attempt to force Israel into positions that are contrary to everything the Israeli right-wing believes in. The EU clerks that put these guidelines together read too much 972mag and haaretz and possibly even believe that what they read there represents the mainstream or the ‘elite’. All this without considering that these are small news outlets which represent the opinions of an aging and relatively marginal Israeli elite (well, haaretz anyway), with the rising replacement elites only benefitting every time their worldview is reinforced by European hostility.

      If you were really honest Noam you would first declare that you support all boycotts of Israel and that your logical reasoning in response to EU sanctions derives from that first and foremost. It has absolutely zero to do with your support for negotiations which as you have pointed out repeatedly you don’t believe in anyway.

      Reply to Comment
      • What happened to “childhood’s end,” Kolumn? “We don’t need you anymore”–that kind of thing.

        By saying he supports “all boycotts of Israel,” Noam would be actively arguing for the boycott of Israel–which is against the Boycott Law, that jewel of free speech. For all I know, suit could be not just again Noam, but 972. But if 972 was forced to close down because of financial hardship induced in law suit, where would you go?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I have no idea what you are talking about in your first sentence.

          Noam can say whatever he wants. Gideon Levy has already explicitly called for a boycott so it wouldn’t even be breaking new ground in Israeli media. That law is unenforceable and anyone who tries to sue under it would only get struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court.

          If 972mag was forced to close down I would bookmark and occasionally read Yuval’s and Noam’s blogs, read Noam on NRG, and happily ignore everything written by every other author here. I am sure I will quickly find other places to argue.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bibi trivia. During his first bout as PM he went to the US and spoke of “childhood’s end,” to the US Congress, which then seemed to mean we don’t need your aid so much that we will do what you want. But the aid has kept flowing.

            Glad you think your High Court would strike down the Boycott Law. However, you may recall an editorial–by Noam, on this site–that 972 felt it necessary to tell its journalists not to appear to advocate a boycott, out of fear of suit.

            What, not read Yossi? That’s just mean!

            Reply to Comment
      • David T.

        “If the EU wants to encourage peace talks it will change its guidelines rather than forcing a right-wing … government on the defensive into taking positions that in the short-term will make it significantly less likely to be flexible in talks.”

        Europe’s 1930s appeasement policy in a nut shell.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Right. Appeasement. Because the Germans were discussing with Europe withdrawing from territory in order to make peace and let their former enemies get closer to their major cities. Appeasement. That’s what this is about. Brilliant.

          Reply to Comment
      • Josh In the Land of Holes

        Israel has much more to lose than just the 71$ Million in R&D from Horizons 2020, it could also lose any or all academic, diplomatic and economic cooperation; from the canceling of Israel’s eligibility in the Erasmus programs, to the revocation of favorable trade agreements. Israel could lose any remaining support from the EU at the UN…and I dare say the US would eventually follow suit. I think it might be hard to argue for a continuation of 12$ billion in annual military aid from the US as Israel undercuts NGO’s and human rights all in the name of the settlement enterprise. If Israel chooses to go down this path of isolation, Horizon 2020 will be the least of it’s worries. So let the settlers and right wing nuts threaten all they want, because in the end their very existence is largely dependent on those whom they seem to be content on mocking and vilifying.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Haha. $12B in annual American military aid? I wish it was that much and in any case in what other cases does it look to you like American aid is dependent on having a decent human rights record? But I digress. It is true that Israel potentially has much to lose from a breakdown in cooperation with the EU or the US. At the same time such a breakdown plays into the ‘the world is against us’ and the ‘world hates Jews’ narratives of the Israeli right which are growing in strength as it is. In the case of serious economic damage to Israel as a result of sanctions the people that leave will not be the people that vote for or agree with the Israeli right. There is also the issue that Israel can have a somewhat paranoid approach to her neighbors. A weaker Israel is likely to be more nationalistic, more aggressive and more trigger-happy when sensing potential threats. Nor is the existence of the settlers or the right-wing ‘largely dependent’ on the EU or those they are ‘mocking’. The existence of the settlers and the right-wing and the state of Israel in general is largely dependent on the ability of Israel to maintain its ability to defend itself, which in practice revolves around its capacity to inflict overwhelming damage to anyone who threatens it. No actions by the EU or for that matter the US are capable of changing this reality. In any case, these are all wonderful things if one is interested in continued conflict but none of them actually contribute to any possible peace agreement.

          Now that we have explored the scenario that you appear to favor and found it ending in a dead end, let’s consider where we are right now. Israel has excellent trade, diplomatic and economic relations with most of the world. Were Israel unable to participate in the Horizon 2020 program its losses in the short-term are $71M/year of European grants. In response Israel is likely to lurch right. What happens in the future in terms of sanctions and boycotts is uncertain. You think that boycotts are on the way. I doubt it. What is pretty much certain is that hints (like the ones the EU is haphazardly dropping) in the direction of boycott and exclusion do not encourage peace talks or a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

          Reply to Comment
    2. rsgengland

      Another point to add to Kolumn9 is that the EU is now trying to set Israels borders.
      This is tantamount to direct interference in the the running of the affairs of a sovereign state by the EU.
      The EU signed up to the UN resolution after the 1967 War, which says Israel must retreat from territories occupied by Israel , after negotiations have been held to establish ‘permanent borders’
      The EU is attempting to thwart negotiations, by attempting to redraw the borders.
      And the ‘green line’ as we all know, is a ceasefire/armistice line, not a border.

      Reply to Comment
      • No, the EU aggregate (not individual States) is saying that continued expansion in disputed territory is a method of resolving the matter without negotiations, which is against the post 67 war UN resolution. Borders established by bilateral talks would end remove any need for boycott anywhere. But good try.

        Reply to Comment
      • sh

        “Another point to add to Kolumn9 is that the EU is now trying to set Israels borders.”

        No, it’s trying to get Israel to set its borders. Meanwhile it expects Israel to report whatever produce that comes from beyond what the world – for want of any attempt to agree borders on Israel’s part – regards as Israel’s borders.

        Reply to Comment
      • David T.

        “… the EU is now trying to set Israels borders.”

        Not at all. Israel declared it’s state within partition borders in 1948.

        “This is tantamount to direct interference in the the running of the affairs of a sovereign state by the EU.”

        Nonsense. Israel’s occupation is not a domestic affair. Neither was German’s occupation.

        “The EU signed up to the UN resolution after the 1967 War, which says Israel must retreat from territories occupied by Israel , after negotiations have been held to establish ‘permanent borders’”

        Again nonsense. There’s no such resolution. But there’s resolution 476 of 1980 “1. Reaffirms the overriding necessity to end the prolonged occupation of Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem;”
        http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/6DE6DA8A650B4C3B852560DF00663826

        “And the ‘green line’ as we all know, is a ceasefire/armistice line, not a border.”

        Correct, that’s why the UN also considers Jerusalem to be occupied, because Israel’s border is the border of the partition plan.

        Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          Continually trying to link Israel to the Nazis is blatant Antisemitism.
          Failing to understand why it is Antisemitism highlights your ignorance of history and your antipathy towards Jews.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Richard Witty

      The current scale of EU activity is appropriate and does motivate Israeli behavior.

      It is conditional on policy and behavior, and not arbitrary.

      One can disagree with the timing, but that is the extent of Israel’s valid argument, and that is strained.

      For the left, that hopes that the EU will go further, there are very severe limits to the extent that it can sanction Israel without harming the Mediterranean marketplace that Israel is such a prominent part, and thereby threatening primary EU members’ economy (primarily Italy).

      It could go slightly further, and certainly will function as a warning.

      But, unless it is willing to put its money where its mouth is, in the form of permanently manning third party peacekeeping (which will be necessary in any agreement) and funding Palestinian and joint development, then punishment and accountability actions will fail.

      Could the EU break up over Israel, yes actually, if Italy’s economy is further threatened and forced to default on debt and then separate from the EU.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Perhaps 972mag is here advocating boycott, but it looks more like advocating that a foreign coalition of nations (the EU) stick to a particular foreign poliy position already mooted.

      For me, these EU guidelines are quite timid, failing — for instance — to mandate non-importation of Israeli products and agricultural produce made in whole or in part in territories occupied by Isreli armed forces after May 1967.

      But it’s high time somebody did something, so hats off to the EU and its guidelines.

      BTW, someone above suggested that the EU is try6ing to dictate Israel’s boundaries. Silly! It is, in an overly-timid manner, trying to edge toward EU efforts to enforce the law of belligerent occupation under which law the settlements (buildings) and settlers (people residing in them) are illegal.

      Whatever Israel’s borders may be today or may become tomorrow (e.g., after peace treaties with Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine), the enforrcement of international humanitarian law (settlements/settlers illegal) has nothing to do these quandries.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Johnboy

      …”the Israeli government will have no choice but to paint Europe as a bunch of antisemites and feed into the fertile and perpetual narrative of Europe hating Jews”…

      And this will affect the EU… how, exactly?

      You may as well threaten that the Israeli govt will hold their breath until they turn blue in the face.

      Or that Bibi will jump up and down yellin’ ‘n’ screaming until the EU relents and gives him what he wants.

      Either threat would be hollow, not to mention childish.

      So is your threat.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      “[EU] attempt to force Israel into positions that are contrary to everything the Israeli right-wing believes in.”

      Bravo, Kolumn9! Everything the Israeli right-wing believes in! Which is that the borders should be determined by the Bible except when it would imply shrinking Israel (Wilderness of Zin was the southern end of the Promised Land, and it is believed to be somewhere near Beer Sheva).

      I was quite astonished reading a discussion how to interpret the story on the treachery of Simeon and Levi. The majority of the participants (Arutz Sheva readers) was for emulating their example. Someone objected that those paragons threw their own brother down into a well. I guess 972+ would be a contemporary candidate for such treatment. A sage reply was that one has to praise the praiseworthy, like slaughtering the defenseless Cana’anites, and condemn the antics with a brother.

      Reply to Comment
    7. David T.

      Why the EU SHOULD amend its new settlement guidelines.

      Security Council resolution 465 (1980):
      “6. Strongly deplores the continuation and persistence of Israel in pursuing those policies and practices and calls upon the Government and people of Israel to rescind those measures, to dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem;

      7. Calls upon all States not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connexion with settlements in the occupied territories;”

      Reply to Comment

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