A senior European Union official told an Israeli diplomat last week that the United States is quietly supporting new EU sanctions against the settlements.
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Last month, the European Commission published new guidelines prohibiting EU grants, prizes or funding for any Israeli entity with direct or indirect ties to Jewish communities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Golan Heights. The guidelines also require any new agreement with Israel to include a clause stipulating that these areas aren’t part of the State of Israel, and therefore aren’t covered by the agreement.
Last week, senior Foreign Ministry officials said, Ambassador to the European Union David Walzer met with Helga Schmid, the deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service and one of EU foreign policy czar Catherine Ashton’s top aides. The meeting dealt with the crisis in EU-Israel relations sparked by the new guidelines.
Walzer told Schmid that Israel won’t participate in the EU’s new research and development program, Horizon 2020, if it is governed by the guidelines as they now stand. Schmid, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official, responded that Israel would be better off not trying to threaten the EU with freezing negotiations over Horizon 2020.
“You should know that we received support for the new guidelines on the settlements from all the European Union’s member states,” the official quoted her as saying. “We’re also receiving tacit support from the American administration.”
The EU mission in Israel declined to comment. The U.S. State Department told Haaretz that this was an EU decision, so all inquiries should be addressed to Brussels.
Previously, American officials have said they weren’t informed in advance about the timing of the publication of the new guidelines – shortly before Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, while he was still trying to get both sides to agree to restart the talks. Nevertheless, neither the State Department nor the White House has publicly condemned the EU move.
The only time a senior American official did make a negative comment on the matter was during a closed meeting between Kerry and American Jewish leaders three weeks after the guidelines were published. According to leaks from that meeting, one Jewish leader asked about the EU move, and Kerry responded that it hindered progress on Israeli-Palestinian talks.
In contrast, senior State Department officials said that publishing the guidelines just then actually contributed to the effort to restart negotiations. The EU move bolstered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, they said, making it easier for him to agree to hold talks despite Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement construction. At the same time, it pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to the talks by making it clear that if negotiations didn’t resume, Israel’s international isolation would worsen.
Israeli and EU representatives are slated to meet in Jerusalem today to begin negotiations on Horizon 2020. Netanyahu discussed this issue with Ashton a few days ago, and a senior Israeli official said it was a difficult conversation, as both sides entrenched themselves in their own positions.
Netanyahu told Ashton that Israel won’t sign the agreement if it’s based on the guidelines as they currently stand. Ashton replied that the European Union is interested in bolstering cooperation with Israel and is willing to provide clarifications about the new guidelines, but isn’t prepared to alter them.
“Netanyahu and Ashton didn’t even agree to disagree,” the senior official said. “Each of them simply read out his own talking points.”
At today’s meeting, Foreign Ministry officials will reiterate Israel’s refusal to sign the agreement under the guidelines as they stand, and warn that these guidelines not only endanger Israeli participation in Horizon 2020, but all cooperation between Israeli and EU institutions.
Israel is the only non-EU country invited to join Horizon 2020. Participation in the program would give Israeli researchers and companies access to hundreds of millions of euros worth of EU grants.