24th Oct 2016


EU's moment of truth on Israeli settlements

  • Ahava: the firm received its Superflex grant two weeks before the new rules (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

This week, the European Union will face a critical test of its policy towards Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Today, negotiations will recommence over the participation of Israel in Horizon 2020, the EU’s new seven-year programme for the funding of research and development, worth €80 billion.

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The External Action Service and the European Commission will face intense pressure from Israel in these negotiations to backtrack on an important recent development: the EU guidelines excluding Israeli settlements from EU funding programmes.

Israel has already lobbied hard against the guidelines, threatening not to participate in Horizon 2020 if the guidelines are to apply.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, advocated on behalf of Israel to EU foreign ministers gathered in Vilnius last Saturday to reconsider the application of the guidelines.

Europe must not give in to these protestations, for the following reasons.

Firstly, the guidelines are only the necessary minimum to effectively implement the EU’s legal obligations under its own law and international law.

The EU, just as the rest of the international community, has never recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the territories it has occupied since 1967. The guidelines, published by the commission on 19 July, merely put this long-held position into practice by limiting the application of agreements between the EU and Israel to its internationally recognised, pre-1967, borders.

Secondly, the guidelines are the only way to ensure that European public money will no longer be used to contribute to the illegal settlement project - which appropriates Palestinian land and resources, results in denial of basic Palestinian human rights, and threatens the viability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thirdly, conceding on the guidelines would most probably not help but harm the progress of the peace negotiations.

For the Palestinians - who have always held by far the weaker hand in the US-led peace talks - the guidelines show that Europe is serious about the settlements.

Indeed, their publication contributed to the decision by the Palestinian Authority to enter peace negotiations at the end of July this year.

A concession at this juncture would publicly undermine Palestinians on an issue of fundamental importance, while vindicating Israel’s settlement policy.

Finally, it is the very credibility of the European Union, both as an actor committed to international law and as a player in the Middle East Peace Process, that is at stake.

Recently, in response to a question submitted by myself and five of my colleagues in the European Parliament, the EU’s research commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn reported a case which explains the importance of the guidelines.

Only two weeks before their publication, the European Commission awarded a €6.2 million grant for an international skincare research project, called Superflex, to be co-ordinated by an Israeli cosmetics company, Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories, between 2013 and 2017.

Although Ahava’s head office is in Israel proper, it is partly owned by two settler communities, and it has a factory in the settlement Mitzpe Shalem, where Ahava carried out earlier EU-funded projects.

At the moment, the EU has no way to be sure whether Ahava will conduct its activities under the new project in Israel proper or in Mitzpe Shalem.

It has no tools to prevent any of the funds from being spent in the settlements.

Under Horizon 2020 and in accordance with the new guidelines, this situation will change as from next year.

Recipients will have to declare that grant money will not be spent in the settlements. If a recipient breaks this commitment, the guidelines give the commission the tool it needs to stop the project and recover the grant money, thereby preventing EU public funds from sustaining the illegal settlements.

In the negotiations on Thursday, the EU has no choice but to insist on Israel’s explicit acceptance of the guidelines as a precondition for its participation in Horizon 2020.

If Israel does not accept the guidelines, the EU cannot sign the agreement.

There is also no way to postpone the application of the guidelines, lest Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020 is delayed as well, which would be in no one’s interest.

If Israel accepts the guidelines and participates in Horizon 2020, then mutual co-operation will flourish and only the settlements will lose potential European R&D revenue.

If Israel refuses to participate, then the largest single public source of research funding for Israel will be lost, with consequences that will be felt much more acutely by Israeli universities and entrepreneurs than by their European counterparts.

Both the EU and Israel are surely aware that the first of these options is the closest they will get to a win-win situation.

The writer is a centre-left Irish MEP. She is the chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council


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