Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Israeli MP: EU action shows Israel is becoming 'pariah'

  • Cern accelerator: Switzerland is not an EU state, but Israeli scientists fear losing contact with Europe (Photo: Andre Goerres)

An MP from Israel's second largest party has warned that settlement-building risks cutting off Israel from the West.

Ofer Shelah, a Knesset deputy from the centrist Yesh Atid party, a key member of Israel's ruling coalition, whose leader, Yair Lapid, is the country's new finance minister, made the statement in Hebrew on his Facebook page on Wednesday (14 August).

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Referring to new EU guidelines which block funding for Israeli entities which operate on Palestinian land, he said: "The price of occupation that … used to be some abstract, philosophical notion, nowadays is concrete, obvious - and unbearable."

He noted that settlement-building "will make us the pariahs of the world."

He added: "The Western world that is our frame of reference, the world with whom our relations nourish our technological and economic power, says to us in word and deed that we will no longer be able to belong to it while continuing our control over another people."

Referring to Israel's potential exclusion from Horizon 2020, the EU's multi-billion-euro research programme, he also said: "We know where to get money. But it means that we shall also be disconnected from the most important projects, those that are irreplaceable: All the money in the world will not give us a particle-accelerator the likes of the Swiss, where we shall no longer share the research it bears."

Leading scientists, such as Ruth Arnon, the president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, recently wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make the same point.

Commentators also note that Israel already signed a deal, in 1972, with the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, which says the body will not give US money to firms which work on occupied land.

Shelah spoke out the same day that Palestinian and Israeli negotiators held a new round of peace talks in Jerusalem.

In a separate event, European Commission and Israeli officials on Wednesday in Tel Aviv also held first talks on Horizon 2020.

The commission said in a statement the talks aim to draft a memorandum of understanding on science co-operation.

It noted that Wednesday's "exploratory" talks handled only "technical and financial aspects" of Horizon 2020, while a second round, in Brussels in September, will discuss the "territorial scope" of the new EU rules.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) earlier said the most prickly part of the guidelines, the so-called territoriality clause, might be softened.

The clause obliges Israel to sign agreements which say it has no sovereignty over East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the West Bank before it gets EU funds.

According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the EEAS has also said it has "tacit support from the American administration" for its initiative, however.

Israeli threat

For its part, the Israeli foreign ministry took the opposite line to Shelah.

It said in its communique on Wednesday that EU "research institutions and companies" stand to lose access to Israel's "groundbreaking research and innovation."

It also threatened that "should such understandings [on softening the territoriality clause] not be reached, Israel will be unable to join the European R&D programme."

Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ended in a low-profile agreement to meet again in the next few days in either Ramallah or Jericho, two Palestinian cities.

Wednesday's meeting between Israel's chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, and Palestine's top envoy, Saeb Erekat, took place amid an EU, US and Palestinian outcry on settlements.

Netanyahu's government on the eve of the talks said Israel will build more than 2,000 new Jewish homes on Palestinian land.

A senior official in the the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said on Tuesday the move "threaten[s] to provoke the collapse of the [peace] negotiations."

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