Israel is concerned about a new European Union directive which conditions all future cooperation agreements with Israel on the directive that they not include Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The EU is the first trading partner for Israel with total trade amounting to approximately €29.4 billion ($38.5 billion) in 2011. The EU is Israel’s major source of imports (34.5 percent of the import market) and the second largest market for exports (26.1% of the export market), behind the United States.
Last month, the EU distributed a binding directive to all member countries forbidding the financing, giving of scholarships, cooperation, research stipends and prizes to anyone residing in Judea and Samaria and east Jerusalem, Haaretz reported on Tuesday.
According to the directive, any future agreement signed with Israel must include a clause stipulating that the settlements are not part of the sovereign state and are not included in the agreement. It is unclear if and how any Israeli government ministers, including Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) will agree to sign on to any agreement that contains that distinction.
The directive goes into effect on Friday.
David Kriss, EU spokesman in Israel, confirmed the report, adding that the directive will be published on July 19 in an official EU policy publication. In a statement, Kriss said, “On June 30 the European Commission adopted a Notice containing 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. …
“These guidelines were prepared as a result of the conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council of Dec. 10, 2012 which stated that ‘all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.'”
The EU statement added that the guidelines are also conform to the EU’s long-standing position that “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and with the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territories, irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law.”
The statement added that the “guidelines are important in view of the new opportunities that will be offered to Israel as a partner in the European Neighborhood Policy and other funding instruments in the 2014-2020 financial framework. The European Union wants Israel to play a full part in these instruments and it wants to be sure that Israel’s participation is not put in question so that Israel will be in a position to make use of all possibilities offered by the new financial framework.”
The European External Action Service had informed the Israeli Mission to the EU prior to the publication of the notice and invited the Israeli side to hold discussions on the agreements which are in preparation, the statement said.
A senior government official in Jerusalem told Haaretz it was a dramatic directive, calling it “an earthquake.”
“This is the first time such an official, explicit directive has been published by the European Union bodies,” the senior official said. “Until today there were understandings and quiet agreements that the Union does not work beyond the Green Line [the pre-1967-war armistice line]; now this has become a formal, binding policy.”
“This demand is not new and it existed in previous agreements with the EU,” Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said in an interview with Army Radio. “The agreements are bilateral and its always a question of negotiations. I think the Europeans are making a mistake, especially at this time — and giving a tailwind to Palestinian intransigeance.”
Speaking to Israel Radio, Elkin said he was concerned about the EU move, which would make it more difficult for Israel to sign agreements with the EU. Likud MK Ofir Akunis called the EU decision “unfortunate” and added that “the land is not occupied, it is the cradle of the Jewish homeland.”
Meretz Party Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said on Tuesday that the EU is doing Israel a favor by demarcating the border that the Israeli government failed to delineate. “This is not a boycott of Israel, but the drawing of a distinction between Israel and the settlements and occupation. The decision is the result of a total deadlock of the diplomatic process and continued building in settlements and outposts.”
Eliyahu Shviro, mayor of Ariel, located in Samaria, said on Tuesday that “my policy is clear and known to all. We are against any kind of boycott. Boycotts never achieve the declared goal of the boycotter, but they do achieve more kindling for the fire of disagreements. It is very possible that this is the intention of the EU’s initiative.
“Anyone who wants to bridge differences and bring about human brotherhood cannot use the illegitimate tool of boycott. Palestinian residents of Samaria are employed in their thousands in Israeli industry. It would not occur to us to boycott them because of their religion or faith or where they live. The EU’s boycott could even undermine this achievement.”
MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi), chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, said on Tuesday that “at a time when the entire Middle East is burning and thousands of people are dying every month, I recommend that the EU deal with the region’s real problems. For our part, we will continue to build and develop.”
The heads of the Yesha Council are calling on the government to instruct the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry to immediately stop European projects in Judea and Samaria until the decision is cancelled.
Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) said that “Europe is proving once again just how out of touch it is and it can’t be a partner for negotiations.”
MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) said “We have to be strong and determined. We will not operate on the basis of the caprices of Europe.”
MK Eli Yishai (Shas) also responded, saying, “It is unfortunate that the Europeans are continuing with their one-sided conduct. Their position is important, but more important are the opinion and beliefs of Israeli citizens.”
So the EU only has problems with Jews that live in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem.