By Linda Gradstein/The Media Line
The European Union (EU) has issued a directive to all of its 28 member states that forbids any form of cooperation, including funding, scholarships, and research grants, to any Israelis residing in areas that Israel acquired in 1967, meaning the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The regulation, which goes into effect on Friday, means that any contract between EU member countries and Israel or and Israeli entity must include a clause that specifically asserts that those areas are not part of the state of Israel, a senior Israeli official told The Media Line.
“This has always been their position and they’re entitled to their position,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. “But now they’re trying to ram their position down our throats and that’s not acceptable to any Israeli government.”
He said Israeli government officials were particularly angry at not being given an opportunity to discuss the matter before the directive was issued.
“They handed us the document a few days back and said they wanted to have a dialogue but that it will be adopted and is irreversible,” the Israeli official said. “What kind of dialogue is that? It’s a mockery of a dialogue.”
An EU official told The Media Line that their position has always been consistent.
“These are guidelines that reinforce already existing policy,” the EU official said. “All agreements with the EU apply to Israel proper and not to the occupied territories. We believe that ‘settlements’ are illegal under international law despite Israel’s claim of sovereignty there.”
In 1967, Israel acquired large swaths of territory including east Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip as a result of the 1967 war. In 1979, it withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, today the site of clashes between Islamists and Egyptian troops, in exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew both troops and civilians from the Gaza Strip. Since then, terrorists have launched more than 10,000 rockets and mortars at targets in southern Israel.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem and built housing for hundreds of thousands of its citizens there. Most Israelis say they do not want to see the city re-divided even in exchange for a peace treaty with the Palestinians. In 1981, Israel extended Israeli law to cover the Golan Heights, the equivalent of annexation, where some 18,000 live. It has grown into a major agricultural region and has flourishing wine and tourist industries.
The area that the EU calls “the West Bank” and its Jewish residents call by the Biblical names of “Judea and Samaria” is the most politically contentious with about 330,000 Israelis live among 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel has not annexed this area, but maintains control over most of it.
The 1994 Oslo Accords, the blueprint for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, divides the West Bank into three categories: “Area A,” which is under civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority, and includes such towns as Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and Jenin; “Area B,” which is under PA civil control and Israeli military control; and “Area C,” over which Israel maintains both civil and security control, which constitutes about 60 percent of the West Bank.
The EU has always seen construction of Israeli communities in any and all of the areas acquired in 1967 as a violation of international law. Israel also clashes with the United States on this issue.
Some of the Israeli residents of these areas seemed anxious to put a good spin on this latest EU decision.
“In the past, the EU has tried to undermine the legitimacy of the entire state of Israel,” Avi Zimmerman, the Executive Director of the Ariel Development Fund told The Media Line. “Now they are dividing Israel and saying the only problem is east of the green line (the pre-1967 border) and the rest of Israel is OK.”
The city of Ariel today is home to 20,000 Jewish residents along with 15,000 students who study at the Ariel University. Zimmerman said he is convinced that Ariel, along with many of the other communities in the area, will continue to flourish.
The future of these areas has long divided Israelis as well. With the exception of the most recent election, most national elections in Israel have focused on whether Israel should withdraw from the West Bank in exchange for a peace deal with the Palestinians. US Secretary of State John Kerry has spent the first six months of his tenure engaged in shuttle diplomacy trying to get peace talks restarted after a 4 ½ year hiaitus.
It is not clear exactly how the EU directive will be put into practice. The EU does not give direct funding to Israel. But it does fund research institutes and civil-society projects as well as joint Israeli-Palestinian meetings, spending tens of millions of dollars each year.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told Army Radio that the EU decision will strengthen the Palestinian’s resolve and reduce their motivation to reach a peace deal with Israel.
In the long run, officials here say, it will make the EU less of a player in the Middle East.
“The ultimate result will be tighter and deeper relations between Israel and North America; and Israel and Asia; but fewer and fewer agreements and contacts and exchanges with the EU,” the senior official said. “It’s not that Israel will decree a boycott but the European attitude shows us how they feel about us. They will lose influence and presence in Israel gradually.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this Media Line story mistakenly claimed that much of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is built on land that Israel acquired in 1967.