EU Won’t Postpone Publication of New Guidelines on Yehudah and Shomron

YERUSHALAYIM -

While the European Union wouldn’t budge regarding Friday as the publication date for its new policy guidelines restricting economic cooperation with Israel in east Yerushalayim, Yehudah and Shomron and the Golan, indications were that the EU would show flexibility on the manner of implementation.

Urgent appeals from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres failed to persuade the EU to postpone issuance of the guidelines, The Jerusalem Post reported.

However, sources in the EU said that discussions with Israel will be held concerning  implementation of the guidelines, which are not set to go into effect until January 1, 2014.

Netanyahu and Peres phoned EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Wednesday night, following reports that the Israeli government had been caught off-guard by the announcement and feared serious repercussions to Israeli banks and companies doing business in the regions in question.

The EU Commission issued a statement Thursday saying Barroso “explained the context and the objective of the guidelines.” Barroso said that the guidelines did not represent a shift in the EU position, and he said the intention was to continue EU-Israel cooperation “within its internationally recognized borders.”

“Following a request from Israeli authorities the EU stands ready to engage in consultations on their implementation,” he said, adding that the “EU supports the U.S. efforts to resume the peace talks without pre-conditions.”

The prospects of renewed peace talks, so cherished by European diplomats, was a key argument put forth by Israel for holding off on the new guidelines.

Peres said that such precipitous EU action could thwart renewal of the peace process, which he said was “within reach.”

In remarks to the media, Peres urged the EU to be patient. “Wait if you have decided, make peace the priority,” said Peres. “Don’t bring forward irresponsible sanctions that will sabotage peace negotiations.”

The United States seemed similarly unmoved by Israel’s pleas. The State Department declined to issue a rebuke of the European Union, instead reiterating its position against building in Yehudah and Shomron:

“The U.S. position … is clear and has not changed,” a State Department spokesman told The Jerusalem Post, “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli [building] activity” in these regions.

The American Jewish Committee issued a rebuke: “The key to achieving a two-state solution — which, again, we wholeheartedly support — is by encouraging direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, not taking steps now to penalize one party, in this case Israel, while emboldening the other,” said David Harris, executive director of the AJC.

Apparently, the language of the guidelines, yet to be released, is ambiguous, and will leave room for negotiation between Israel and EU over their application.

In the recently signed Open Skies aviation agreement, the territorial clause reads: “The application of this agreement is understood to be without prejudice to the status of the territories that came under Israel’s administration after June 1967.” Senior diplomatic officials said this was language Israel could live with, The Jerusalem Post reported.

An example of language Israel would not accept in future agreements was the draft of the next stage of the Euro-Med Youth Program: “This agreement will be implemented in conformity with the European Union’s position that the territories that came under Israel’s administration in June 1967 are not part of the territory of Israel.”

Meanwhile, Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Perry decried the EU decision, warning that it will potentially harm 40 percent of research and development academic grants in Israel. Perry said the expected European decision that scientific agreements will have a clause saying they are not relevant to Israeli academic institutions with dealings outside the Green Line “will endanger our scientific connections with the EU. The technical implementation of the decision is liable to prevent Israeli scientists from participating in R&D projects of the EU to large grants compared to scientists in other countries.”