Israel and the European Union this week initialed an agreement paving the way
for Israel’s participation in the mega European research funding program known
as Horizon 2020, they will be putting behind them what, for all the diplomatic
sparks that flew between them over the past five months, was never more than a
Of course, it did not seem that way at first. After all,
when Brussels issued last July new guidelines specifying that Israeli entities
located beyond the Green Line would no longer be eligible to apply for EU
funding under the European research program, Jerusalem reacted as if the
nation’s very security was at stake.
Assuming the gravity of a leader
whose country was under frontal assault, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
proclaimed that “We shall not accept any external dictates on our
Some of his fellow cabinet ministers were far less restrained.
An act of “economic terrorism,” was how the country’s economy minister termed
the guidelines, while another declared that the guidelines were “reminiscent of
boycotts against Jews from over 66 years ago.”
Yet if the reigning
perception in Jerusalem was that the EU wished to punish Israel for its
settlement policy, the political reality in Brussels suggests a radically
First, and as with almost anything having to do with EU
policy, the primary motivations were legal and technical in nature. In this
case, given that agreements between the EU and Israel have traditionally failed
to specify what constitutes the “territory of the State of Israel, the
guidelines sought to fill in a lacuna that has bedeviled European policymakers
The issue had taken on legal significance following a European
Court of Justice ruling in February 2010 that products originating in the West
Bank did not fall within the territorial scope of the EU’s free trade agreement
with Israel. Since the ruling placed a legal imprimatur on the Union’s
definition of the territory of the State of Israel, the new guidelines sought to
ensure that European institutions were not found in contempt of
Certainly, the new guidelines aimed at more than just assuaging
the legalistic anxieties of Brussels’ Eurocrats. But the irony is that, despite
Israeli suspicions, the guidelines did not seek to toughen EU policy toward
Israel its settlement policy in the West Bank as much as to uphold the viability
and legitimacy of the Union’s existing agreements with Israel.
to recognize this point, it is necessary to appreciate the political context for
the European move and the economic significance of the guidelines.
political context is the rising power of the European Parliament relative to the
EU institutions in the post-Lisbon Treaty era and the growing influence within
Parliament of interest groups calling for boycotting Israel.
the calls to boycott Israel draws justification from Israel’s occupation, the EU
move to differentiate between the State of Israel and the occupied territories
is tantamount to drawing a cordon sanitaire around Israel.
It is an act
designed to uphold and defend the very health of the relationship between the EU
As for the economic significance of the guidelines, it is
virtually nil. While precise data on the volume of Israeli research financed by
the EU in the occupied territories since Israel first joined the Union’s
research programs in the mid 1990s is hard to come by, according to the European
Commission the total number of EU-funded Israeli projects beyond the Green Line
since 2001 may be no more than five.
Moreover, these five projects were
all conducted by a single entity – the Ahava cosmetics company – which was
awarded about 1.5 million euro, a figure that represents less than one tenth of
one percent of all EU research grants awarded to Israeli entities over this same
It is perhaps no coincidence that the beneficiary of the European
research funding goes by the name of Ahava, which is Hebrew for “love.” For
despite the perception in Israel, the guidelines ultimately underscore the
degree to which Brussels remains deeply committed to its relationship with the
Jewish state – a relationship that it struggles to protect from the collateral
damage that Israel’s settlement policy increasingly creates.
is the co-author of Uneasy Neighbors: Israel and the E.U. (2010) and Israel and
the E.U.: A Documentary History (2012); Yonatan Touval is a senior policy
analyst with Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.