Israel Goes to Battle With EU Over Settlement Ban

August 9, 2013

3 min read

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ashton bibi
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, during their meeting in Jerusalem, on June 20, 2013. Following the EU ban on products from Judea and Samaria, Israel has informed the EU that it has suspended any further participation with them until it “clarifies” the ban. (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

In the Jewish Oral Text Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Father, a compilation of ethical teachings and maxims, in Chapter 1 Verse 7 Nittai the Arbelite warns “Keep far from an evil neighbor and do not associate with the wicked”. Israel may be taking these words to heart.

Both Israel and the European Union had high hopes for the EU’s upcoming massive Horizon 2020 program to promote scientific research and development. After all, Israel is one of the world leaders in science and technology.

However, Israel’s participation in the program is seriously at risk since the EU passed its new regulations banning any participation on any Israeli business and institutions in Judea and Samaria. According to The Times of Israel, Israel let it be known that any other potential agreements with the EU are suspended until it “clarifies” its new policies against the Jewish State. Israeli Prime Minister discussed the pressing issue with a number of pertinent Knesset members in a meeting on Thursday. In attendance was Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Education Minister Shai Piron, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, Science Minister Yaakov Peri, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, among others.

The ministers “did not make a decision specific to Horizon 2020,” a government source told The Times of Israel, “but they all agreed that the new EU guidelines are detrimental to the possible success of the peace talks with the Palestinians.” Academics have warned that if Israel opted out of Horizon 2020, the negative impact on the country’s scientific standing would be “devastating.”

The ministers also agreed that “Israel won’t be able to sign additional agreements [with the EU] that include the stipulations the EU is demanding. The government of Israel will seek clarifications from the EU regarding the territorial clause,” the official said.

Despite a tremendous amount of pressure by Israel, a top EU official has let it be known that the EU has no intentions of delaying or modifying its new policies targeting Judea and Samaria. “The guidelines will take effect as they are. This is how they were published [in the EU’s Official Journal], as a legal act, and that’s how it will be,”Ambassador Andreas Reinicke, the EU’s special representative to the Middle East peace process, told The Times of Israel last week. In certain areas where the guidelines are still unclear, there may be need for “a closer look” at the details, he allowed. But their main points will not be changed and will take effect by January 2014, as planned.

In the meantime, the EU ban has already taken effect in a number of European member-states. According to the Jewish Daily Forward, two weeks ago four major supermarket chains declared a boycott on Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights. However, quickly afterward, two major supermarket chains distanced themselves from the decision, yet spokespeople for the four chains also acknowledged that their stocks currently include no products from ‘Israeli settlements’.

It is unclear as to whether or not the ‘Boycott Israel’ campaign succeeded or not, with both sides claiming victory. “The chains’ hurried about-face proves the failure of attempts by anti-Israel groups to single Israel out for criticism in the supermarket,” said Esther Voet, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, a pro-Israel lobby group based in The Hague.

But Sander Becker, a reporter for the Trouw daily, which broke news of the supposed boycott, said the affair may have exposed the existence of a “silent boycott” in which stores keep settlement products from the shelves but don’t admit to what they are doing. Companies may “shun products from settlements while publicly claiming it’s because of ‘price, quality and availability’ — the three harmless [parameters] stipulated in statements by all the supermarket chains,” Becker said.

Whether or not the boycott was successful in this particular case is a small story in a larger picture. According to the Forward the labeling of products coming from Judea and Samaria is spreading through Europe. The Time of Israel reported that Brussels is also determined to introduce a labeling plan for settlement products by the end of 2013.

If these policies are not reassessed, and the EU shows no intentions of doing so, any and all cooperation between the European Union and the State of Israel may be irreparably damaged.

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