The European Union has signalled that it may reassess its restrictive guidelines over co-operation with Israel as talks began this week on a fresh EU-Israel agreement.
On Saturday, EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton seemed to be taking a step back from the new EU advisory that limits European support of joint research and development projects to organisations that do not have operations beyond the “Green Line”.
In remarks to reporters, Baroness Ashton said that the guidelines simply formalised the Union’s position, that they would be implemented “sensitively” and that “we of course want to continue having a strong relationship with Israel”.
According to officials in Brussels, the clarifications came following pressure from the Obama administration over its concern that the crisis in relations between Israel and Europe could harm the chances of the renewed negotiations with the Palestinians.
On Tuesday, an EU delegation arrived in Israel to prepare the first round of talks over Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020, the new European R&D programme which could bring Israel some 800 million euros in research grants. The Israeli government decided to go ahead with the talks despite refusing to agree with the new guidelines.
Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin caused an uproar in Jerusalem this week when he shelved a Foreign Ministry report on why the guidelines caught Israel by surprise.
The report cleared the foreign service of responsibility and said that Israeli diplomats had warned the government of a changing attitude in Brussels.
Mr Elkin said that the report “failed to answer the central questions”.