There is deep concern within the Israeli government that new European Union guidelines on funding for organisations that operate beyond the Green Line will open the door to a widespread boycott of the country’s academic and educational institutions.
This runs contrary to the view of the EU, which believes the move will have a minimal impact on Israel.
The guidelines recommend that all future agreements involving “funding, co-operation, and the granting of scholarships, research grants and prizes” must include recognition that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not part of Israel’s sovereign territory.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, sought to downplay the move. She said: “There are a small number of Israeli organisations operating in the occupied territories that have received EU funds.”
Sandra De Waele, First Counsellor at the EU mission to Israel, stressed that the recommendation did not apply to trade agreements or the marketing of West Bank products. She added that the guidelines only oblige EU institutions to insist on the new clause in funding agreements — not individual member states.
We will not accept any external edicts regarding our borders. This subject will be decided only in direct negotiations between the sides - Benjamin Netanyahu
However, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told Israel Army Radio that while Israel has encountered such EU limitations before, the decision could also prompt member states to demand similar limitations in bilateral agreements.
There is concern that EU member states that are normally critical of Israel, such as Ireland, will use the guidelines to request such conditions in future funding deals.
In addition, academic institutions such as Haifa University, based within the internationally recognised Israeli borders but which have offices and projects in East Jerusalem or beyond the Green Line, could find themselves left out of projects funded by the EU.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to indicate on Tuesday that the EU conditions would be rejected by Israeli institutions. “We will not accept any external edicts regarding our borders. This subject will be decided only in direct negotiations between the sides,” he said.
If academic and other bodies do refuse to sign the new funding contracts, up to 40 per cent of the foreign funding for research in Israeli universities could be put in jeopardy.
There is also concern that anti-Israel activists and organisations will present the EU move as a new legal obligation for European institutions to join a boycott. Judy Keiner, a researcher on the impact of EU policies and laws on education and on women’s rights, commented: “What will now happen is that boycott groups will misrepresent this EU move. They’ll tell UK universities and cultural groups the EU says they have to boycott all Israeli groups, people and goods from the territories.”
In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu said that the EU decision also undermines the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry to renew peace negotiations: “For years the Europeans have been whining about the fact that the Americans are not involved enough. Now that they are involved, this action actually undermines the American efforts and undermines the negotiations.”
Israeli officials are concerned that the EU move will reduce the chances of drawing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. They fear that the PA could now be even less likely to abandon their pre-conditions to new talks on the understanding that the EU will force a form of economic sanctions on Israel if the status quo remains unchanged.
As well as leading to the deterioration of Israel’s diplomatic ties with the EU, there is also the possibility that the guidelines may be extended to trade issues and that other countries will follow suit.
A wider range of strategic concerns are also at stake. The Israeli leadership is co-operating with the main European governments on issues such as Syria and the Iranian nuclear threat, while at the same time managing a serious crisis and deep difference of opinions on the Palestinian issue.