EU considers strengthening “security” research with Israel

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (right) and then-Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres during a meeting in Tel Aviv, October 2006. (Moti Milrod /MaanImages)

BRUSSELS, 22 February (IPS) - The European Union is considering new steps to deepen its cooperation on scientific research with Israel, despite admitting that previous funds earmarked for that purpose have gone to firms operating illegally in the Palestinian territories.

Between now and 2013, the Israeli government is to contribute 440 million euros (652 million dollars) per year so that it can participate in the EU’s so-called framework program for research.

An unpublished document prepared by EU diplomats reveals that because much of the joint research will relate to security issues, Israel has requested a formal assurance that any information it gives to Brussels will be treated confidentially.

The document, seen by IPS, says that the Israeli authorities have indicated that there is a need for an agreement with the EU because the “exchange of classified material may be necessary.” Dated 15 February, the paper suggests that EU governments should open negotiations with Israel in order to conclude a “security of information” accord.

Israel’s request for confidentiality follows an admission by the EU that some firms based in the Occupied Palestinian Territories had received money under an earlier research program funded by European taxpayers.

In a 2006 memo, the EU’s executive, the European Commission, blamed “administrative errors” for how firms based in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza had benefited from such funding. The Commission promised at that time that it would be “very vigilant” in monitoring the future use of the EU’s research budget, which totals 50 billion euros over the next seven years.

Sandrine Grenier from the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network said that any support for companies in the Palestinian territories “violates the EU’s own obligations.”

The EU’s relations with Israel are based on an “association agreement” that entered into force in 2000. It commits both sides to uphold human rights and democratic principles.

Yet despite the mass killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in recent years, the EU has not imposed sanctions against Israel. B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, has calculated that of the 810 Palestinians killed by the occupying forces in Gaza in 2006 and 2007, just 360 belonged to an armed organization.

Eoin Murray, the Middle East program officer with the Irish anti-poverty organization Trocaire, said that the human rights clause in the association agreement “has to have teeth.”

“Until it has teeth, it is meaningless; it doesn’t have any impact at all,” he added. “The EU might have to stop cooperating with Israel on certain issues because it is not complying with its legal obligations.”

Ton Van Lierop, the Commission’s spokesman for enterprise and industry, acknowledged that the joint research with Israel will have a so-called anti-terrorist dimension.

But he insisted that it will be focused on “civil security” such as measures to improve ambulance and fire brigade services. “It is not aimed at the military,” he said. “We always have an ethical review of our programs. Human rights are always at the forefront and are always important for the European Commission.”

Security has been identified as one of the priorities of the EU’s framework program for research. Projects already approved for funding relate to such matters as boosting efforts to detect explosives at airports and protecting drinking water from possible attacks from biological and chemical weapons.

Israel was the first non-EU country to be accepted for joint activities under the program. The importance of defense to the Israeli economy has increased considerably in recent years. Exports of defense equipment from Israel grew from 1.6 billion dollars in 1992 to 3.4 billion in 2006, making Israel the fourth largest arms dealer on the planet.

Some analysts have indicated that drawing a distinction between civil and military security in Israel is fraught with risks. Israel, for example, has a high level of expertise in technology that can be used for both civil and military purposes. In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein points out that Israel’s “technology sector, much of it linked to security, now makes up 60 percent of all exports.”

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a human rights activist with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in Jerusalem, said: “I often ask myself ‘what is the glue binding relations between the EU and Israel, Britain and Israel and America and Israel?’ One of the things must be the joint work on what is called anti-terrorism.”

She argued, though, that actions taken by Israel with the official objective of fighting terrorism are counter-productive. Israel has cited security reasons for its economic blockade of Gaza, under which power supplies and basic provisions have been denied to Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants.

“The talk of fighting against terror has to be taken with a large pinch of salt,” she said. “It is very disturbing that the Israeli government is starving people in Gaza, that is has created ghettoes in Gaza, and that has created other ghettoes in the West Bank. It is not doing anything to build trust. It has not ceased building settlements and it has not dismantled illegal outposts.”

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