The Israeli government last week approved a $72 million proposal to set up a first-of-its-kind, not-for-profit organization geared toward "fight[ing] against the de-legitimization of Israel" by specifically targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Notably, the announcement came just days after pop music superstar Lorde cancelled a planned concert in Tel Aviv amid pressure from pro-Palestinian activists.Meanwhile, the central committee of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud party voted unanimously on Sunday to endorse applying Israeli law to the West Bank, which would entail effective annexation of the territory. This position is championed by other members of the governing coalition, foremost Education Minister Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party.
It is against this backdrop that Jerusalem's "right-wing" political leaders have finalized a cooperative agreement with the European Union that disqualifies Israeli communities located beyond the 1967 borders, including in east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, areas Israel has formally annexed.The initiative, Cross-Border Cooperation in the Mediterranean, is an EU-funded development effort that involves regional countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Public and private bodies in Israel and the Palestinian Authority are likewise eligible to receive grants for projects that meet the program's criteria.According to the Haaretz newspaper, the accord received the stamp of approval of the foreign and justice ministries, led respectively by Tzipi Hotovely and Ayelet Shaked, both of whom are on record opposing the creation of a Palestinian state and the boycott of Jewish "settlements." For his part, Netanyahu reportedly green-lighted the initiative two weeks ago knowing full well that, in practice, the deal's territorial provision demands precisely the latter.The only member of the Israeli cabinet to object to the move was Culture Minister Miri Regev, who wrote a letter, cited by Haaretz, highlighting some of the pact's perceived hypocrisies. "The absurd result will be that, if the PA submits a project in [the West Bank city of] Hebron, it will be accepted and will receive support, while Israel won't be able to do so," she contended. "In addition, the fact that this agreement relates to the PA as if it were a 'neighboring country'…is also not acceptable."According to Colette Avital, formerly the deputy director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in charge of European affairs, there are two ways to reconcile the apparent paradox. "First, there are a lot of people that speak from both sides of their mouths. Second, Netanyahu realizes that he cannot give up the money that comes from the EU," she contended to The Media Line."The same thing happened in 2013 with the Horizons 2020 [scientific cooperation agreement with the EU]. At first there was a lot of bravado [because of the territorial clause] but then the premier caved amid a huge amount of pressure. Israel has benefited from millions and millions of dollars from these types of programs and Netanyahu knows this."Avital noted that the government is nevertheless "having its cake and eating it too" with the announcement on Monday that Jewish communities in the West Bank excluded in the deal would be compensated by Jerusalem. "Netanyahu is constantly trying to balance between the right-wing base and wing of his party and what is best for Israel. But eventually," she elaborated, "there could be a vote in the Knesset [parliament] on annexing the territories, which may or may not pass easily. If it is approved Israel will wake up as a pariah state and then accuse the world of being antisemitic."Netanyahu's government has clashed with the EU over such issues and their various manifestations, including, most recently, Brussels' vehement rejection of US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the Jewish state's capital. Israel has long maintained that the 28-member bloc also provides financing to organizations that promote the Palestinian narrative of victimization while advocating for a boycott of the Jewish state.As a result, Israel previously declared various high-ranking officials in the EU—for example, the Swedish foreign minister—persona non-grata and threatened to completely end Brussels' role as a mediator in the peace process.However, economics, at times, apparently trumps ideology.Oded Eran, who served as Israel's ambassador to the European Union from 2002-2007, believes that the signing of the accord is simply realpolitik. "The EU forged an association accord with Israel in 1995 and it was clear to both sides at the time what the bloc's position was," he explained to The Media Line. "Facing this reality, the Israeli government has to decide whether to continue to cooperate with the EU [and in this case] it did so wisely, even while maintaining its own position on the territories occupied in 1967."In this respect, Eran stressed that any "unilateral moves by Israel outside the context of the negotiating process would have a very negative impact. The EU would never accept this absent an agreement with the Palestinians."So it is, then, that an Israeli government perceived by many as the most "extreme" in the country's history has, in Haaretz's words, "de facto agree[d] to a boycott of the settlements." It would certainly be ironic if the new anti-BDS organization Israel is setting up goes after, as its first target, Jerusalem's own agreement with the EU.
Israel raises threshold to cede parts of Jerusalem in Knesset vote, January 2, 2017 (Reuters)