Israel Backtracks, Delays Vote After Initially Agreeing to EU Program That Excludes Settlements

Following Haaretz report, Israel changes course on proposal for joint culture program that would have effectively endorsed European boycott of the settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Emil Salman

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said on Sunday morning, following a report in Haaretz, that she objects to a proposal set to be brought to the cabinet on Israel joining an EU cultural initiative since it would exclude the settlements. Since then, the cabinet secretariat announced that the issue will be taken off the agenda of Sunday's cabinet meeting. 

Regev published her statement despite the fact that the official document on the government proposal, circulated to ministers by the Prime Minister's Bureau on Wednesday, clearly states that she supports the move.

The EU program, called Creative Europe, involves cooperation between EU and non-EU countries in the areas of culture and media. The significance of the proposal is that the government of Israel would in effect be agreeing to a European boycott of the settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

"The culture minister supports international cooperation in the field of culture. However, if the agreement with the European Union that the Foreign Ministry is proposing includes a boycott of Judea and Samaria – Minister Regev will oppose it and the Culture Ministry won't be a party to this agreement," the statement said, referring to the West Bank settlements.

Regev's office also said that she plans to turn to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is to submit the proposal in his capacity as foreign minister, clarify her opposition and ask to remove the topic from the cabinet meeting's agenda.

By joining the initiative, Israel would be showing its willingness to accept the exclusion of cultural institutions from the settlements in exchange for EU funding of institutions within Israel.

The wording of the current agreement is identical to the Horizon 2020 agreement signed with the EU in 2014, which involves cooperation in the area of research and development.

The document distributed to ministers ahead of Sunday's cabinet meeting states that, as with the 2014 agreement, Israel would append a separate letter to the agreement in which it would maintain its stand in principle on the matter of the settlements. Israel would do this in order that it could participate, despite the gaps between it and the EU on the Palestinian issue. The letter is a symbolic gesture meant mainly for internal political consumption in Israel.