By Yair Rosenberg, TABLET, |July 16, 2013
The European Union has issued new guidelines for its cooperation with Israel which explicitly curtail its involvement in the Occupied Territories. Naturally, this has sparked a diplomatic firestorm. Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately condemned the regulations, which are set to be included in the 2014-2020 EU financial framework, saying “we will not accept any external dictates regarding our borders. That issue will be decided only in direct negotiations between the sides.”
So, just how earth-shattering are these guidelines? Tablet has acquired the official document containing the regulations, published today by the European Union, and we’ve spoken to an EU diplomat with close knowledge of its contents and drafting. As it turns out, there’s a lot less in these guidelines than most press coverage would have you believe. Here’s why:
- They do not bind EU member states in their bilateral relationships with Israel.
The new regulations only apply to the institutions of the European Union itself. They do not restrict its member states in their bilateral ties with Israel, whether economic, cultural or diplomatic. “Member states don’t have to abide by this,” the EU diplomat explained. “It applies to EU-funded programs, and to EU programs as such. It doesn’t apply to national programs. So concretely, if France wants to fund the Ariel college, it can do it, and it’s not violating any European law.” In EU parlance, this is what is known as a “commission notice” or “soft law,” as opposed to a “directive,” which has to be translated into national law by all EU members. (Haaretz erroneously used the language of “binding directive” in its original report, fueling much consternation and mistaken reporting in and out of Israel.) As for the EU’s own funding: European officials estimate that less than 1 percent of it currently goes to “settlement entities,” far from a substantial loss.
The guidelines do not affect trade.
In addition to not impacting Israel’s bilateral relationships with EU members, the new guidelines do not address trade, i.e. products originating in the settlements. The rules are a far cry from the platform of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks an end to all commerce and other contact with Israel in toto, and don’t even approach the West Bank boycott advocated by some liberal Zionists like Peter Beinart. Rather, in their own words, the guidelines only prohibit “EU support in the form of grants, prizes or financial instruments” from being given to companies or organizations with activities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. (Individuals living in those areas, however, are exempt.)
The regulations may affect the language of future EU-Israel trade agreements—again, not bilateral ones with EU members—though how this would play out in practice is unclear, and Israel has already signed accords with the EU in the past that explicitly excluded the settlements for certain purposes.
The regulations do not apply to Israeli governmental institutions, regardless of their location.