The Israeli government swallowed its pride and principles on Tuesday when it reached an agreement with the European Union over the terms of its participation in Horizon 2020, the EU’s prestigious and lucrative program for scientific research and innovation.
By agreeing to sign an agreement that formally includes the European Union’s new settlement guidelines, the Netanyahu government essentially condoned an explicit boycott of all Israeli entities and organizations that operate anywhere beyond the Green Line, including the Jewish-Israeli parts of east Jerusalem, the major settlement blocs and the Golan Heights.
The EU graciously allowed the Netanyahu government to save some face by permitting it to append a letter stipulating that Israel does not accept the EU’s settlement guidelines. In practice, however, that is precisely what the Israeli government has done. For all intents and purposes, Israel’s Likud-led right-wing government bowed to the European dictate that explicitly bars any Israeli company or research institution that operates beyond the 1967 lines from participating in Horizon 2020.
Let there be no mistake, this was the correct decision to make under the circumstances. By so doing, the government placed the national interest over the ideological goals of the settler lobby, averting what Prof. Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities, said would have been an “irreversible disaster” for Israeli scientific R&D had Israel stayed out of the project.
It is ironic that a staunchly right-wing government has effectively endorsed the 1967 lines as Israel’s borders, at least in terms of its relations with Europe. That irony is compounded when one considers that this political travesty, which could have been averted, comes at the expense of this government’s most ardent supporters – Israelis who live and work beyond the 1967 lines.
How could this situation has been averted? By obviating the European Union’s settlement guidelines. How might Israel accomplish that going ahead? By reaching an understanding about the border between Israel and the future Palestinian state.
With the exception of the maximalists on both sides, most people recognize that the border between Israel and the future Palestinian state will be based loosely on the 1967 lines, with land swaps to allow for the demographic changes that have been produced over the decades by the Israeli settlement enterprise. The Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, as well as the homes of a majority of the settlers (the ones who live in what are known as the major settlement blocs), are envisioned in almost every final status arrangement as being annexed to Israel, with world recognition.
But the Netanyahu government has refused, by all accounts, to present to anyone a detailed proposal of where it would like to see its future border run. As the Horizon 2020 agreement demonstrates, by refusing to formally give up its claim on part of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the government painted itself into a corner, ultimately producing a situation in which it has literally been obliged to sign off on the boycott of all Israeli activity beyond the Green Line.
As noted, the government’s decision to accept the EU’s terms was the right decision. To do otherwise truly would have been for Israel to cut off its nose to spite its face, all for the sake of a principle that only a small minority of Israelis believe in – complete and eternal Israeli sovereignty over all parts of the greater Land of Israel.
The benefits Israel will reap from participating in Horizon 2020, when coupled with the enormous economic, academic and political losses Israel would have incurred by sitting out, far outweigh the value of that questionable principle and certainly are worth the political humiliation that this right-wing government has had to bear by co-signing a boycott of Israeli activity in the territories.
The way to avoid similar and possibly worse political pitfalls in the future is plain to see. The State of Israel needs to establish a clearly defined border that is accepted by the international community. The European Union’s decision to issue its settlement guidelines this summer and to insist on their formal inclusion in Horizon 2020 demonstrates just how acute that need is. Optimally, this border should be negotiated as part of a broader agreement with the Palestinians.
But if that is impossible, Israel must persuade its friends that it has negotiated in good faith and has made a sincere effort to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Under those circumstances, it should reach an understandings with the European Union, the United States and its other friends in the world about a self-imposed border, beyond which Israel no longer stakes a claim.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.