There’s much ado about Europe at the moment. First they want to give us millions for scientific research, then they say there are conditions attached. Now the political bigwigs have weighed in and everything seems to have gotten a little bit out of control. It’s time take a deep breath, step back and look at the situation as a whole.
The controversy at the moment surrounds an EU demand that to be eligible for EU funding Israel has to accept a clause claiming that the West Bank and East Jerusalem aren’t a part of Israel. The clause is non-binding on the trade between member states and Israel. Essentially it affects only grants issued by the EU itself for academic research.
Which brings us to a project called Horizon 2020. It’s a European research program with a total budget of €80 billion to be distributed from 2014-2020.
We’re all going to hear a lot more about Horizon 2020 in the coming days and then probably very little about it at all once the story has blown over. In much the same as no one had ever heard of the E1 corridor before Israel announced it was building there and no one heard about the E1 Corridor after about a week of press coverage so the Horizon 2020 story is all set to be a big deal…right up until the next big story comes along to replace it.
But really both the E1 Corridor and Horizon 2020 are two parts of the same whole; The continued and growing European dissatisfaction with Israeli building in the occupied territories.
Meanwhile Bibi is happy to stand up, clench his fist and say, “We will not accept any foreign dictates about our borders. This matter will only be determined through direct negotiation between the [two] sides”
The EU is still sitting in the background making sure that Israel pays a diplomatic and an economic price for settlement building. But the truth (as always) is much more complex than that of the European Union being the bad guy and constantly criticizing Israel.
In fact the EU is Israel’s greatest trading partner, with trade between us standing at €29.4 billion in 2011. A staggering 34.5% of imports to Israel come from the EU and perhaps more importantly the EU is responsible for 26.1% of our export market (in 2011). When it comes to Europe, Israel is the only country in the world who is so close to being a member state without actually being one. Whether it’s about trade, military purchases (most notably Dolphin class submarines from Germany) or about football, Israel’s relationship with Europe is too strong and too important to ever be broken.
But that doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted. As was noted by the Times of Israel earlier, Israel is the only non-EU country invited to participate in what is a massive plan to shape the future of Europe and fund research into the fields of science and technology as well as to create growth in the economies of participating nations. The fact that Israel was invited to participate speaks volumes about the benefits that could come from working together with the EU rather than constantly being in conflict with it.
So let’s take a step back and look at what else was happening with the EU at the same time as they released their new rules for giving us free money for research.
Five days after announcing the restrictions the EU imposed upon Israel receiving various grants the EU declared the military wing of Hezbollah to be a terror organisation. While Israel has been extremely vociferous about the hit we have taken in the one respect ministers have been extremely quiet with regards to the major diplomatic victory we scored over our enemy to the North. A victory we gained thanks to the unanimous agreement of the 28 EU member states.
By focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive our own ministers have placed Israel in a weaker position than necessary. The settlements have become a major talking point in Europe specifically because our ministers reacted with such vehemence to an issue that was originally considered to be something so small as to barely warrant any conversation at all.
Interestingly when two Dutch retailers removed Israeli made produce from their shelves their argument wasn’t that they did so out of moral concern against Israeli policies. The Times of Israel quoted a spokesman for the Aldi supermarket chain as saying “the company was not interested in its products “being part of public discourse in any way”. Essentially we shot ourselves in the foot by making talk about settlements an issue in Europe. Ministers had the option of quietly accepting the clause asked for by the EU. By the way this clause is exactly the same clause we accepted with the “Open Skies” air travel agreement.
No wonder the EU is confused, they added precisely the same language that this Prime Minister has already agreed to and received precisely the opposite response.
We should have praised the Europeans for making it significantly more difficult for Hezbollah to operate in Europe rather than lambasting them for basically putting down on paper the same position that we have already agreed to. Had we done so we would be in a much more positive place with our largest trading partner, who simply wants nothing more than to give us hundreds of millions of dollars for research.
We should be working together with Europe not attacking them at every turn. There is so much to gain from an improvement of our relationship with them and so much to lose by seeing our current relationship suffer!