Analysis: Not a slippery slope, but a greased super-slide

Foreign Ministry officials shocked, caught off guard by EU decision on settlement ban, blame pressures of dealing with EU's vast bureaucracy, express concern about legal significance of written law.

July 18, 2013 06:55
3 minute read.
Netanyahu at meeting with Catherine Ashton, EU High Rep for Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2013.

Ashton and Netanyahu shake hands 370. (photo credit: Courtesy - GPO)

Foreign Ministry officials in contact with their counterparts in Europe about the new EU guidelines governing funding to Israeli entities beyond the Green Line were astounded Wednesday by what they were hearing.

Some of their interlocutors were saying that the guidelines were nothing new, rather just the concrete, written manifestation of an old policy: that the settlements are not to benefit in any way from EU funds.

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If in Judaism, first came the Written Law, followed by the Oral Law, here it was backward – first there was the oral understanding prohibiting EU cooperation with entities beyond the Green Line for years, and now there is a written law enshrining that policy.

“Don’t worry,” EU diplomats were saying. “Nothing will change on the ground. The relations between the EU and Israel will not be any different after the guidelines go into effect than they are now.”

Another EU argument was that these guidelines were actually for Israel’s good.

According to this logic, European governments are coming under all kinds of pressure from NGOs, leftwing organizations and certain parliamentary groups that are loudly waving the banner of boycotting the settlements. Having these guidelines on record will allow the governments to continue and deepen its economic cooperation with Israel, while deflecting claims regarding the settlements by saying, “Look, we have regulations governing all that.”

One Foreign Ministry official dismissed this argument as an “insult to our intelligence.”

The argument, he said, is like a parent spanking his child and telling the wailing kid that it hurts the spanker more than the one being spanked.

The third argument voiced by foreign officials in European capitals was that they really don’t know what the guidelines mean, because they were prepared and pushed by the EU’s vast bureaucracy and not by the diplomatic echelon.

Indeed, when EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem last month, this matter – according to Israeli officials – was not raised once. The officials said they did not believe Ashton would hide something like this, because of what that would do to her relationship with Netanyahu, and that she simply did not know.

None of these arguments, however, are calming anyone in Jerusalem.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry representatives abroad will make the rounds of EU capitals before Friday – when the guidelines are to be formally enshrined in the EU’s journal – to persuade the countries that this is simply a bad idea with far-reaching consequences.

The guidelines – formally called “Guidelines on the Eligibility of Israeli Entities and Their Activities in the Territories Occupied by Israel Since June 1967 for Grants, Prizes and Financial Instruments Funded by the EU from 2014 Onwards” – does not make for easy reading, and not only because of the subject matter.

The guidelines are written in legalese, making it nearly unfathomable to everyone but lawyers.

Take this paragraph as an example: “These guidelines apply to EU support in the form of grants, prizes or financial instruments within the meaning of Titles VI, VII and VIII of the Financial Regulation which may be awarded to Israeli entities or to their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967. Their application is without prejudice to specific eligibility conditions which may be laid down in the relevant basic act.”

And this complexity, according to Foreign Ministry officials, is part of the problem. Those at the decision- making level in Europe are not fully aware of what their underlings hatched. And what they hatched, Israeli officials argue, is a document that does not provide an opening for penalizing Israeli institutions inside the pre-1967 lines with business activities beyond the Green Line; it makes available a gaping hole.

For instance, under the terms of the guidelines as understood by Israel, if there is an international fund or project that Israel has contributed to but is run by the EU, Israeli institutions with business activities beyond the Green Line may not be eligible for grants, prizes or financial instruments from that fund – even though Israel contributed to it.

Furthermore, under Israel’s understanding of the meaning of the guidelines, all Israeli entities – as a condition for taking part in EU programs – will have to sign a declaration that they are not located, and in some cases, have no activities beyond the pre-1967 lines. Practically, this means Israel will explicitly have to agree to Europe’s policy on the matter.

This is not a slippery slope, one official noted, but a greased and oily super-slide, one that has a great deal of significance, even though some European officials are interested in playing it down.

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