Israeli Minister Files Objection Against Deal With EU That Excludes Settlements

Netanyahu's approval of the agreement would have been final automatically if no cabinet ministers had filed objections to it by the beginning of January

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium on December 11, 2017.
Virginia Mayo/AP

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has filed the first objection with the cabinet secretary in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's approval of a cooperation agreement with the EU containing a clause excluding the West Bank from its provisions.

As Haaretz first disclosed last week, Netanyahu's approval of the agreement would have been final automatically if no cabinet ministers had filed objections to it by the beginning of January. In practice, the agreement consents to a European funding boycott of the settlements. Now that Regev has filed the first complaint, other ministers are expected to use the opportunity to develop a position on the issue as well.

The agreement relates to Israel's participation in the EU's so-called ENI CBC Med program, which provides tens of millions of euros to cooperation projects with countries in the Mediterranean basin that are not EU members. The countries include Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. The Palestinian Authority is also a participant. The program provides major grant support for public and private organizations from participating countries and from the Palestinian Authority.

In addition to Regev, several other cabinet members recently approached Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely about the agreement, whose ministry led efforts to have Israel participate in the program. Hotovely asked her ministry's European division and legal department to examine the issue. The EU agreement has also been signed by the Justice Ministry led by Ayelet Shaked.

In accordance with the EU's standing policy, the terms of the ENI CBC Med agreement include a territorial provision explicitly excluding grants to Israel for projects beyond its 1967 borders, meaning potential recipients in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The program is aimed at promoting socioeconomic development, innovation and competitiveness in a number of fields, including education, research, technology, employment, environmental sustainability. 

In her letter to cabinet secretary Braverman, Regev wrote in part: "The absurd result of this agreement will be that, if the Palestinian Authority submits a project in [the West Bank town of] Hebron or in East Jerusalem, it will be accepted and will receive support, while Israel won't be able to do so. In addition, the fact that this agreement relates to the [Palestinian] Authority as if it were a neighboring country, as part of the agreement's definition of 'neighboring country,' is also not acceptable to me."

Regev also stated: "My fundamental position is that the Israeli government should reject agreements from the outset that require us on a de facto basis to boycott portions of the homeland or populations living in the Golan Heights, Jerusalem or Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] other than with very limited exceptions In any event, in this case, I do not see the justification to compromise and with one hand sign the agreement while with our other demanding that the world give de facto recognition to our right to a united Jerusalem and even to move embassies to Israel's capital."

Referring to U.S. President Donald Trump's recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Regev continued: "[Coming] actually at this time, after the U.S. president's declaration, when we are conducting a diplomatic campaign led by the prime minister precisely on this issue with European countries and the European Union is certainly not the proper timing for this. As a matter of fact, it's an opportunity to make our just position clear and not compromise to get a small amount of funding from the European Union."

About a year ago, Israel's participation in a prior agreement with the EU pertaining to the Creative Europe culture and media program that included a similar territorial provision was scuttled at the last moment by Culture Minister Regev. In that case too, Prime Minister Netanyahu had also given his initial consent. In the end, Israeli cultural institutions and artists were unable to apply for grants from the program.