Israel Aims to Join EU Program That Excludes Funding for Projects in Settlements

Lapid is expected to announce Israel's desire to participate in the culture program at an EU foreign ministers' meeting on Monday, the first such official event in more than a decade attended by Israel's top diplomat

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Foreign Minister Lapid, left, and Prime Minister Bennett at the Knesset in June.
Foreign Minister Lapid, left, and Prime Minister Bennett at the Knesset in June. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The new Israeli government will seek to have Israel join the European Union's Creative Europe program, which grants hundreds of millions of euros in support to cultural and arts projects. The move comes despite the fact that the EU grants to Israeli projects would be conditioned on their not going to Israeli projects beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders.

In 2017, the government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu spurned Israeli participation in the program because it would have barred funds from going to institutions in Jewish settlements in the West Bank – or in in East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights – on the grounds that they are not in the State of Israel. "As long as the West Bank is excluded, this subject will not be put on the cabinet's agenda," the culture minister at the time, Miri Regev, said.

Creative Europe has a seven-year budget of 1.46 billion euros ($1.73 billion), providing grants to 250,000 artists and projects, including hundreds of films and thousands of book translations.

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had come up with compromise wording in the past that enabled Israel to participate in a comparable European Union program that also prohibited grant funding to be spent beyond Israel's 1967 borders. Bennett, who was economy minister at the time, managed to come to agreement on Israel's participation in the other program, Horizon 2020, providing sizeable scientific funding in fields of technology.

At the time, Bennett proposed that an addendum be added to the agreement with the EU stating that Israel opposes the EU's exclusion of West Bank Jewish settlements from the program. The formula that was reached paved the way for Israeli participation in the program.

When it comes to Israeli participation in Creative Europe, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Culture Minister Chili Tropper have agreed that Israeli participation would be based on the same formula. Lapid is expected to advance the process at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels. The meeting will be the first of its kind in more than a decade attended by an Israel foreign minister, and Israel has high hopes for the meeting.

"The new government is interested in turning a new page with Europe," an official said, and to break with the set of relationships that Prime Minister Netanyahu had pursued.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at a media conference in Brussels following a meeting of EU foreign ministers, May 18, 2021.Credit: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via AP

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell invited Lapid to attend the Brussels meeting as a high-profile guest of the gathering, which is to be attended by 26 European foreign ministers. Lapid is to speak to the gathering and to engage in discussion with his counterparts. He is expected to use the opportunity to announce Israel's participation in Creative Europe, to be followed by negotiations on the text of Israel's agreement with the EU on the subject.

"For the Israeli arts world, it involves a dramatic step," said one official with knowledge of the project. "Israel will invest a lot of money in the project, but all of the money – and more – will be returned as an investment in cultural initiatives. Beyond the economic benefit, this involves membership in a significant cultural club and an admission ticket to cooperation with Europe."

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