Last July, we reported on an EU decision which would prohibit Israel from spending European funds on projects in occupied Palestinian territory. Although this move is unlikely to have a major impact on the Israeli economy, it was considered a major stumbling block for Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020 – the EU’s flagship programme for cooperation in scientific research. Israel is expected to have a €600 million stake in the project.
Negotiations regarding Israel’s participation in the project began in August, with high-level talks between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Further negotiations took place in Brussels in September. The outcome is a Memorandum of Understanding, which will be signed between both sides in the coming days.
One of Israel’s major concerns over the EU financing guidelines is that they would set an unfavourable legal precedent concerning its borders. The EU guidelines foresee a clause in every future agreement which would force Israel to concede that territories outside of its internationally recognized borders are not a part of the country. Not only does this have implications for Israel’s future international agreements, but it could also set a precedent for EU funding based on other financial instruments. For this reason, Israel has insisted on including an appendix to the MoU which states that “it does not accept Europe’s position and doesn’t view it as a legally binding precedent that will affect the outcome of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.” However, according to EUObserver, officials familiar with the document have classified the appendix as “futile … a fig leaf.”
Crucially, Israel will not be able to challenge the MoU before the EU court in Luxembourg nor before its own national courts. This is because it comes in the form of a legal notice issued by the European Commission.
In its current form, the MoU still does nothing alter the conditions proposed by the funding guidelines. To make the agreement more palatable to the public, Israel is selling it as a compromise deal. A joint statement by Catherine Ashton and Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni reads in part as follows:
(Image courtesy of Håkan Dahlström)