A group of 51 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have written to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in the latest of a series of calls on the EU not to water down new guidelines that prevent the EU from recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Announced in July, the new EU guidelines should bar it from awarding grants to Israeli projects in territory occupied since 1967 and exclude Israeli businesses and institutions that operate in the West Bank from receiving EU loans.
The EU now faces a major test of its willpower as Israel, the US and a host of Israel lobby organizations pressure it to water down its guidelines. Israel says it will not take part in the major new research funding program Horizon 2020 unless the guidelines are relaxed.
In their letter, the MEPs from across the political spectrum explain that they “feel strongly that Israeli settlements should not benefit from European taxpayers’ money.”
Last week, more than 500 European academics wrote to Ashton to explain that as participants in EU research programs they opposed the current situation, which the guidelines are supposed to prevent, whereby the EU is “encouraging and funding collaboration between European universities and Israeli companies such as Ahava that operate in illegal Israeli settlements.”
Israel steps up pressure
As negotiations on Israel’s participation in the 70 billion euro Horizon 2020 research funding program continue, Israel and its supporters have been pulling out all of the stops to pressure the EU not to apply the new guidelines.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has called on the EU to drop its new guidelines, arguing that they will hinder negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. A statement published by more than 40 Palestinian civil society organizations condemned his comments as amounting to “an appeal to the EU to violate its own obligations under international law.”
On Tuesday, the European Parliament committee on relations with Israel hosted a special meeting with David Waltzer, Israel’s ambassador to the EU. A friend who was at the meeting told me that Waltzer was visibly angry and almost shouting into his microphone as he denounced the EU for “boycotting Israel.”
Among the many pro-Israel lobbyists present was a large contingent from the Israel Allies Foundation, the organization behind a major pro-Israel caucus in the US Congress. The foundation appointed a new European director and pledged to step up its lobbying efforts in Brussels in response to the guidelines.
Comments from senior EU officials following the first round of negotiations on Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020 suggest that they are so far standing firm and insisting the new guidelines will be enforced. But fears remain that the more ardently pro-Israel EU governments such as those of Italy, Germany or the Czech Republic could try to derail the new guidelines altogether.
Worryingly, Ashton has also hinted at a possible compromise when she said she hoped a way could be found for the guidelines to be implemented “sensitively.”
Grassroots campaigns by students, academics and solidarity groups played a key role in pressuring the EU to announce its guidelines, and further public pressure will be required for it to implement them fully.
Deep ongoing complicity
While the new guidelines are an important milestone in terms of EU policy towards Israel, the EU will remain deeply complicit with Israeli apartheid even if and when they are fully implemented.
The EU-Israel Association Agreement grants Israel preferential trade arrangements and participation in a huge array of EU programs. The fact that this agreement remains in place no matter how Israel escalates its violations of Palestinians’ human rights acts as a green light for further Israeli impunity.
Assuming that Israel does eventually participate in the Horizon 2020 program, the new guidelines will do nothing to prevent EU grants being awarded to Israeli military companies.
In the period 2010-2012, Israeli military companies Elbit Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries received EU grants worth at least 3.39 million euros, according to data available on the EU’s Financial Transparency System. Many of these grants were for research into aircraft and sensor technology that the companies will inevitably use to provide Israel with an even deadlier arsenal.
Nor will the new guidelines prevent funding being awarded to Israeli universities, despite their involvement in military research and weapons development projects that put them at the heart of planning and implementing Israeli war crimes.
According to one report in the newspaper Haaretz, Israel expects to receive 300 million euros more in Horizon 2020 funding than it will contribute to the scheme. This figure is unlikely to be greatly diminished by the new guidelines. So while the EU may be imposing harsh austerity measures on the peoples of Ireland, Greece and Portugal, it seems that times are never too tough to hand over a nice chunk of cash to Israel.