Israel rejoins EU science program excluding Judea and Samaria

Horizon Europe is the EU’s largest research and development program but excludes funds from disputed territories.

AERIAL VIEW of east Jerusalem: Radical shift (photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)
AERIAL VIEW of east Jerusalem: Radical shift
(photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)

Israel and the European Union have completed negotiations for Israel to join the Horizon Europe scientific research funding program, which includes a controversial clause banning the use of the funds in east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria.

Horizon Europe is the EU’s largest research and development program to date, with a budget of €95.5 billion ($111b.). Past rounds of the Horizon Europe program have helped fund Israeli technological research and developments in academia and the private sector.

“Israel joining Horizon is another aspect that positions Israel as a central player in the largest and most important research and development program in the world,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said.

The 2021-2027 Horizon Europe program includes the territorial exclusion clauses from the previous seven years, Horizon 2020, which were politically and diplomatically controversial when they were negotiated in 2013.

In 2013, then-justice minister Tzipi Livni reached an agreement with the EU foreign envoy at the time, Catherine Ashton, which included a compromise suggested by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who was economy minister at the time. It included an appendix that said Israel opposes the exclusion of Judea and Samaria on legal and political grounds.

The agreement also requires Israeli companies, organizations or academic institutes that apply for European loans or grants to set up a mechanism to ensure that the funds do not get invested over the Green Line.

Now that a final draft has been reached, the government and Knesset are expected to approve the agreement with its settlement exclusion clauses.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who were formerly foreign minister and deputy foreign minister, respectively, strongly opposed the agreement in 2013. Bennett did not sign the agreement, even though he was the economy minister; instead, then-science minister Ya’acov Peri did.

Elkin’s office said he had opposed an earlier draft of the Horizon 2020 agreement, but he and the rest of Likud’s ministers supported it after he and Bennett negotiated a “softer” version of the territorial conditions.

“This time, as long as it is the same version as in 2013, Elkin will support the agreement,” his spokesman said. “At the same time, thanks to a demand by Elkin and the New Hope Party in coalition negotiations, the government decided on Sunday to add NIS 70 million to strengthen Ariel University and solve budgetary problems for its students.”

The Prime Minister’s Office did not comment.

But this time, Liberman praised the Horizon program, saying it was “one of the leading research and development programs in the world... Israel joining the program expresses the importance Israel puts on investment and support for research and development as a key to future economic growth.”

Last year, when the government weighed applying sovereignty to Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria, EU sources said Israel could be left out of the Horizon program if it went through with annexation. That plan was scrapped when Israel signed the Abraham Accords for peace and normalization with the United Arab Emirates.

The view from Mount Bental, overlooking the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, August 22, 2020 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)The view from Mount Bental, overlooking the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, August 22, 2020 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Foreign Ministry, along with the Finance, Justice, and Innovation, Science and Technology ministries and the Council for Higher Education, and the EU negotiated Israel’s membership in Horizon Europe in recent years, and the program is considered the flagship partnership between the sides. The agreement is set to be officially signed in December.

“Joining Horizon brings high-quality employment, technological advancement and new Israeli businesses... The Foreign Ministry is continuing to create economic and scientific opportunities for Israel,” Lapid said.

Chief Scientist of the Israel Innovation Authority Ami Appelbaum said Israeli entities have received more than €1.3b. ($1.5b.) from Horizon 2020, the previous program, which had “a significant positive influence on the quality of research, strengthening Israeli academia’s international reputation and its connections with the European research community.”

Those influences can be seen in terms of international market penetration and growth potential, he said, adding that the Horizon Europe program was “a strategic asset for Israel’s economy.”

Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Economics Yael Rabia-Tzadok said the agreement shows Europe’s trust in Israel as a science, technology and innovation asset.

The US put the Trump administration’s declaration that settlements in Judea and Samaria are not illegal per se into action by expanding scientific agreements with Israel to include those areas, as well as the Golan Heights. The new versions of those agreements were signed at Ariel University in October 2020; the Biden administration has not reversed them.

In March, 500 academics from Europe and Israel signed a letter calling for the EU to ensure that none of its funds are used for projects involving Ariel University, which is over the Green Line. They cited instances in which Ariel University was involved in Horizon 2020 projects and said it was “falsely indicated on project material as located in Israel.”

“Research projects should not be used to legitimize or otherwise sustain illegal Israeli settlements,” the letter said. “The EU cannot resile from its own obligations in this respect without further empowering Israel’s unlawful military occupation and its oppression of millions of Palestinians, and without further undermining the Palestinian people’s inalienable and universally recognized rights under international law.”