In the book of Genesis (12:3), God tells Abraham, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” The weeks and months to come may serve to test this declaration.
On Tuesday, the day Jews around the world marked the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem by mourning and fasting, the EU published its decision to make companies operating in territories captured in 1967 ineligible for EU financial grants. Although this is not a change in policy per se, the declaration indicates a hardening of the EU stance on these disputed territories. Reaction has been varied in both tone and source.
MKs across the spectrum were quick to condemn the declaration, which was issued without warning or input from Israel. One senior official told the Jerusalem Post that Israel would be satisfied with a wording that would express the EU’s position but would still enable Israel to sign, akin to the wording in the recent Open Skies agreement: “The application of this agreement is understood to be without prejudice to the status of the territories that came under Israel’s administration after June 1967.” The Open Skies agreement, signed in June and coming into effect over the next five years, allows European airlines to fly directly between any European city and Israel.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wasted no time in contacting various EU officials to express his displeasure regarding the declaration. He spoke to President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as the leaders of France, Greece, Malta and Austria, telling them, “There are more urgent and pressing issues in the Middle East that should be dealt with first,” referring to Syria and Iran, for example.
Israel has also threatened to pull out of the Horizon 2020 project, an EU initiative in which Israel is the only non-EU member country to be a full partner. The project, in which Israel’s contribution is set to be €600 million over seven years, aims to create new jobs and growth in Europe, while offering even larger grants and research investments to Israel. Israel’s standing as a research center makes it an invaluable member of the project and though it stands to gain more than it is committed to invest, pulling out could strike a serious blow to the project.
The primary objection to the EU decision is the perception that it is designed to influence the final determination of Israel’s borders in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. Additionally, as a senior Jerusalem official told the Maariv newspaper, “The Europeans have a right to do whatever they like with their money. However, their directives also influence what Israeli institutions do with funds that do not come from the EU, and that is unacceptable.”
The head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council urged the Israeli government to respond by annexing Area C, the part of Judea and Samaria under Israeli administration following the Oslo Accord.
Not surprisingly, left-wing bodies, within Israel and without, have lauded the move. However, Israel has found at least one ally within Europe: Germany came out against the guidelines, which it sees as political posturing with no real benefit.
MP Philipp Missfedler, the Bundestag spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party and its coalition partner the Bavarian Christian Social Union expressed concern that the EU declaration could mean the “end of research cooperation with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem because some of their academics have an address in East Jerusalem.”
He drew a parallel between the declaration and the German Green Party’s recent move to require products from those same disputed territories to be marked as such. “Instead of issuing statements hostile to Israel, the Green Party faction should concentrate on a solution to the essential questions of the Middle East conflict: Israel’s right to exist, an end to terrorism and fundamentalist violence, as well as the creation of a foundation for a two state solution, with final borders for both states,” he said.