Bennett Urges Israeli Government to Cut Ties With EU Over Settlement Guidelines

Economy minister voices lonely position as government mulls joining EU research and development program, which would make Israeli institutions eligible for NIS 1.4 billion in grants.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett is urging the government to end all cooperation with the European Union in light of the latter’s new guidelines on the settlements – even if such cooperation would boost Israel’s economy.

On Monday, National Security Council chairman Yaakov Amidror convened a meeting to discuss the implications of new EU rules barring cooperation with Israeli entities that have ties to West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. The discussion, which took place at the level of ministry directors-general, was preparation for a similar meeting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to hold in the coming days.

One of the topics discussed was whether Israel should join the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and development program. Israel already participates in the EU’s current research and development program, which ends on December 31, and is the only country outside the European Union that was invited to join Horizon 2020 as a full member. The economy, education and science ministries had all been slated to participate in the new program, which will begin next year.

Though Bennett wasn’t present at the meeting, he made it clear that he believes the right thing to do is end all cooperation with the European Union. But his associates stressed that this is merely his personal opinion, and that at the meeting with Netanyahu, he will also present his ministry’s professional opinion.

“It’s not clear that Israeli counter-measures would have any effect,” one Economy Ministry official explained. “We’re talking about a fly that wouldn’t really bother the European elephant. But if we find something that could have an impact, we’ll consider it.”

In contrast to Bennett, Science Minister Jacob Perry vehemently opposes dropping out of Horizon 2020. He sent a letter to his cabinet colleagues a few days ago urging them not to make any hasty decisions.

The Council for Higher Education, which is subordinate to the Education Ministry, hasn’t yet finalized its opinion on the matter.

NIS 1.4 billion in grants

If Israel joins Horizon 2020, it will pay the European Union some 600 million euros over the next seven years, and in exchange, Israeli universities, researchers and companies will be eligible for EU grants and other funding in a wide variety of technological fields. As a result, for every euro Israel puts in, it is expected to get back 1.5 euros, or about 900 million euros in total. This means its net gain from participating in the program would be about 300 million euros, or a little over NIS 1.4 billion.

The new EU guidelines, published by the European Commission last month, require any Israeli entity seeking to take part in an EU project or receive EU grants, prizes or funding to declare that it has no connection, either direct or indirect, with West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

In response, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has ordered the defense establishment to cease cooperating with EU projects and representatives in the West Bank, including EU infrastructure projects in Area C – the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control. He also plans to make it harder for EU officials to enter or leave the Gaza Strip via Israel. Both measures were apparently approved by Netanyahu.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett: once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.Credit: Michal Fattal

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