Guidance on those EU guidelines

I make no apology for drawing your attention once more to the small matter of the “Guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities and their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards.”

You will recall that these “guidelines” were published last month by the office of Baroness Ashton of Upholland, who is in charge of the EU’s foreign policy. Ashton’s purpose in publishing them was to penalise Israeli applicants for, and beneficiaries of, EU grants, prizes and “financial instruments,” by obliging such “entities” to declare, publicly, that they operate or have “their place of establishment” exclusively within Israel’s pre-1967 “borders.”

The appearance of the guidelines was naturally seized upon by sundry enemies of Israel, who triumphantly proclaimed that they amounted to a most welcome tightening of the screw against the Jewish state.
The Guardian, for example, characterised them (July 16) as “a harsh blow to the Israeli settlement enterprise”. Unless Israel gave considerable ground in the peace talks now under way (the Guardian warned, August 14) the EU’s apparent prohibition of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships to Israeli institutions situated across the Green Line could become “the international norm.”

In fact, insofar as the guidelines signify anything at all, they merely reiterate current prejudices within the EU’s high command. This isn’t just my view. It’s the view of Ashton’s office, conveyed to me in a letter (August 16) that declared as such: “despite much of what has appeared in the media, the guidelines reflect a continuation of existing policy.” Quite right!

The guidelines apply only to Israeli “entities,” and not to activities carried out by individuals (“natural persons”). They would not, for example, prevent an Israeli academic (let alone an academic based within the EU) from applying for a grant to work across the Green Line. In theory, they might prevent an Israeli institution (on either side of the Green Line) from making such an application, but the ways round this are a matter of common knowledge.

The guidelines refer to the “place of establishment” of the institution in question as being “the legal address where the entity is registered.” In the case of an institution within the territories, this registration could of course be effected within the 1949 armistice lines — say via a small registered office of convenience.

I also need to point out that the guidelines do not and cannot override the 2007 agreement that covers technical and scientific co-operation between Israel and the EU. Article 2 of that agreement stipulates that Israeli “entities” shall participate in such co-operative programmes on precisely the same basis as EU member states.

The earlier so-called “Association” agreement of 2000 prohibits discrimination by the EU and any EU member state against Israeli nationals or “companies or firms” in the provision, inter alia, of goods and services. And before anyone says that these agreements could be unilaterally terminated, I must add they are reinforced by other, international concordats (for example the General Agreement on Trade in Services, dating from 1995).

In view of the above, I am at a genuine loss to understand the whiff of panic that emanated from Jerusalem when Ashton’s guidelines were promulgated. One unnamed Jerusalem source was widely quoted as characterising them as an “earthquake” directive that would “prohibit EU states from signing deals with Israel” unless a “settlement exclusion clause” was included.

So it’s worth my repeating that — as Ashton has confirmed — the guidelines say absolutely nothing that has not already been said. Neither is it the case that Israeli companies or universities with any kind of activity across the Green Line will be prohibited from receiving EU research funds. They aren’t now and they won’t be in the foreseeable future.

My own view is that the contents of the guidelines were far less important than the timing of their publication, and that they should best be seen primarily as an attempt to reassure the gullible that the EU was playing its part in talking tough to the Jewish state.

Last updated: 6:45am, August 30 2013