A group of former European leaders have called on the European Union not to ease or delay the implementation of new rules that would prohibit the EU from funding Israeli institutions based or operating anywhere beyond the Green Line, including eastern Jerusalem.
In a September 16 letter addressed to the foreign ministers of the 28 EU member states and to EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, 15 members of the so-called European Eminent Persons Group expressed "great concern" at attempts to "delay, modify or even suspend the European Commission guidelines on funding of Israeli entities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967."
The letter -- signed by longtime Israel critics including former EU foreign policy chief and NATO secretary-general Javier Solana, former French foreign minister Hubert Védrine, and former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos -- argues that the "strict application" of the guidelines "serves to reiterate that the EU does not recognize and will not support settlements and other illegal facts on the ground."
The "guidelines" refer to a new directive -- the long title is "Guidelines on the Eligibility of Israeli Entities and their Activities in the Territories Occupied by Israel since June 1967 for Grants, Prizes and Financial Instruments funded by the EU from 2014 Onwards" -- that forbids EU organizations and institutions from funding or cooperating with any Israeli entities based in Judea and Samaria, eastern Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.
The directive -- which was published on July 19, 2013 and will take effect on January 1, 2014 -- includes a requirement that all future agreements between the EU and Israel include a clause in which Israel accepts the EU position that none of the territory beyond the Green Line belongs to Israel.
Needless to say, Israeli officials have rejected the directive out of hand and are refusing to sign any new agreements with the EU which include such a clause.
The issue came to a head after Israel threatened to cancel its participation in Horizon 2020, an €80 billion ($110 billion) scientific cooperation program sponsored by the European Union.
The EU and Israel both stand to benefit from Israel's involvement in the lucrative program, which begins on January 1, 2014 and will run for a period of seven years.
Israel -- the only non-EU country that has been invited to join Horizon 2020 -- is expected to invest €600 million in the program and receive €900 million in inbound research grants and other investments. For its part, the EU will benefit from Israeli research and technology, which is widely believed to surpass the capabilities of many EU member states.
Officials from the EU and Israel met in Jerusalem on September 10 and in Brussels on September 12 in talks aimed at hashing out an agreement that would modify the EU guidelines in such a way that Israel would be able to participate in the project.
Although the talks in Brussels continued for seven hours and included nearly a dozen participants from each side, EU negotiators refused to budge. Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is now expected to raise the issue directly with Catherine Aston, the EU foreign policy chief.
Any agreement over Israel's participation in Horizon 2020 would have to be signed by the middle of November, and negotiations are expected to continue up until then.
Thus the apparent purpose of the September 16 letter issued by the European Eminent Persons Group is to provide Ashton with political cover for maintaining her hardline stance vis-à-vis Israel.
Indeed, the letter is vehement that the new EU guidelines be enforced with regard to Horizon 2020. The letter states: "We urge you to uphold this commitment by supporting the guidelines and their full application by EU institutions, notably in regard to the ongoing negotiations about Israel's participation in Horizon 2020... If the EU were to delay or suspend the guidelines, or not fully apply them to the agreement with Israel on Horizon 2020, this could further undermine the Palestinians' trust in the negotiation process and their ability to continue the talks. In other words, delaying or suspending the guidelines is likely to undermine negotiations, which we want to see succeed, not help them."
The letter also comes in response to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has urged the EU to suspend implementation of the ban in order to show the Israeli public the benefit of pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
On September 7, Kerry asked for the suspension in a closed-door meeting of EU foreign ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he also discussed the current status of the talks, which resumed on July 30 after a nearly three-year hiatus.
A senior US State Department official who was at the talks in Vilnius said, "There was strong support for his efforts and an openness to considering his requests." But Ashton has been characteristically unapologetic, saying only that the EU would send a team to Israel to make sure the implementation of the new guidelines was done sensitively.
Ashton has support from other quarters as well. On September 11, a group of nearly 500 European academics sent a letter to Ashton urging her not to water down the new guidelines. The letter states: "Reports in the media that you are thinking of softening or postponing the implementation of the EU Guidelines on Israeli Settlements have shocked academic opinion across Europe and beyond. We, and the nearly five hundred European academics who have signed the attached petition in the last 48 hours, applaud your Guidelines, and urge you not to weaken or abandon them at the first sign that Israel, or the United States, takes objection to them. Principles are principles. Please stick to yours."
Not to be outdone, a group of far-left Israeli intellectuals, academics and artists also sent a petition to Ashton in support of the EU guidelines on funding of Israeli entities. The document states: "Our government has threatened to end its participation in the EU's research program -- a move that would be, in the first place, to Israel's own great detriment. We urge the EU not to be misled by this tactical maneuver, and to insist on full application of the guidelines when negotiating Israel's participation in that program."
Meanwhile, the European Jewish Congress (EJC), a Paris-based umbrella group for Jewish communities in Europe, criticized the former EU officials for sending the letter, calling it a "danger to peace as it hands one side a political victory without having to compromise and deepens the Palestinian feeling that they can gain more outside of negotiations than in them."
In a full-page advertisement published by the London-based Financial Times on September 16, EJC President Moshe Kantor described the EU guidelines as "discriminatory" and a reflection of "the desire for the EU to score political points." Kantor continued:
From the well over one hundred territorial disputes in the world, the European Union has mandated the creation of a clause in every agreement denying European funding to, and cooperation with, institutions from only one nation involved in a territorial dispute: Israel. It has not placed similar criteria on Turkey, Morocco, China, or any other nation involved in a territorial dispute.
What makes the situation far worse is that the European Union is abrogating agreements that it signed and witnessed. The Oslo Accords, the basis for the peace negotiations, specifically stipulated that the current status of the territories, and its residents, will not be changed or harmed ahead of final status negotiations, to which the parties have recently returned.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, the Greek ambassador to Israel, Spiros Lampridis, said he understood Israel's objections to signing the territorial clause because it is so "explicit."
"If I put myself in the Israeli shoes I can see why they are not able to sign it," he said. "Therefore our task as European states is to find alternatives to make this thing workable for both sides. We are not here to fight, we are here to cooperate, and if Israel cannot cooperate with the EU, and vice versa, then that means that the EU is not really understanding the importance of Israel in the framework of the Western family."
Other Europeans have also shown themselves sympathetic to the Israeli position. On September 17, the Vice Chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, Italian politician Fiorello Provera, organized what has been described as an "historic" conference to help MEPs better understand the harmful impact of EU policies in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank).
The conference -- entitled "EU-Israel Relations: Impact of the New EU Guidelines on Israel and Their Effects on the EU, Israeli and Palestinian Economies" -- was held at the Foreign Affairs Committee hall inside the European Parliament.
The event was attended by 20 MEPs, representatives of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, the Israeli ambassador to the EU, David Walzer, and a wide array of journalists.
Member of the Knesset for the Jewish Home Party, Ayelet Shaked, told the European politicians attending the conference that she feared the evacuation of West Bank settlements and the creation of a Palestinian state would only lead to increased missile attacks against Israel:
Europe's forcing us to cede land, in order to achieve the type of agreement it sees fit for the Middle East, will only mean that these missiles will continue to rain down on Israel not only from Gaza, but from Qalqilya and Ramallah [Palestinian cities in the West Bank] as well.
If Europe thinks Jews will return to the days where we were forced to mark our products, you can forget it. Delegitimization of parts of Israel by Europe is the new anti-Semitism. The old anti-Semitism led to the destruction of our people in gas chambers. We will not allow the new anti-Semitism to hurt us.
Such conduct creates a sense among Israelis that Europe is lost, that it is occupied by the forces of radical Islam. If that is the message you have been trying to send, you are doing a good job in getting it across. I want you to understand that you are important to us. We hold your support in high regard, but you cannot push us to commit suicide.
Shaked also called for a change in the terminology employed within the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. "It is time to say the truth: Judea and Samaria are not occupied territory, but disputed territory. That is the truth as far as international law is concerned."
Provera summed up the conference, saying that "MEPs in this house [the European Parliament] are not familiar with the facts. Did you know that Jews and Arabs work side by side in the factories of Samaria? The idea of putting pressure on Israel and slapping sanctions on it is unacceptable. It will not bring peace, but may only bring unemployment to the Palestinians, as a result of which they might turn to terror."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.