Last-minute efforts to reach a compromise agreement between Israel and the European Union proved successful on Tuesday, as a formula was worked out that will enable Israel to join the lucrative Horizon 2020 research and development project, with the deadline for signing just a week away.
No official explanation was forthcoming about how the issue of a pending EU ban on economic cooperation with entities over the Green Line had been resolved.
“A compromise has been reached that will allow this project to move forward,” an Israeli government official, who asked not to be identified told Reuters. “Both sides understand that the other side has a different position on the politics, but there is an understanding that there is a mutual interest to cooperate in the issues of science and technologies.”
However, it was reported by Ynet that according to understandings reached by the two sides, cooperative agreements will contain a clause stipulating that any entity operating beyond the Green Line will be eligible to apply for loans, according to Ynet.
Whatever its exact nature, the agreement would seem to clear aside an issue which has cast a pall over Israel-EU relations for months, and comes at a time when an Israeli diplomatic success was sorely needed.
The winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Technion Professor Dan Shechtman, said on Tuesday that “our partnership with the European Union in the present and the future is vital to the sciences in Israel and we cannot exaggerate its importance.”
Shechtman had strongly urged flexibility, arguing that it would not necessarily mean “defeat” for Israel. “Under current circumstances, it is worthwhile to sign the agreement, and in the future we will try to secure terms that are more suitable to the position of the Israeli government. On this contract we need to sign in any situation,” he said.
As of Monday, it appeared that the EU had not shown the flexibility it had promised, and that serious diplomatic and economic repercussions might be unavoidable.
After an emergency meeting late Monday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu instructed Israeli diplomats to try once again to break a deadlock in negotiations for a compromise agreement with the European Union on its impending ban on cooperation with businesses over the Green Line.
“The compromise solution we proposed … was ignored. They made us wait two weeks to finally tell us, ‘take it or leave it’,” an Israeli diplomat told AFP. The cabinet ministers met yesterday but no decision has yet been taken and it’s unlikely the EU will change its position,” he said.
An EU spokesman contested the Israeli version of events, insisting they have showed significant flexibility and that “negotiations are ongoing … in the context of how the guidelines will fit into the Horizon 2020 agreement,” David Kriss said, of the multi-billion-dollar scientific research project, which would be the first casualty if the guidelines are implemented as they now stand. Non-participation in the program would cause an estimated loss of over two billion dollars for scientific research in Israel.
Israel and the EU have been holding talks since August seeking a formula that would enable Israel’s participation in the flagship EU Research and Development program. The EU guidelines published in June bar the transfer of any money or funds to entities beyond the Green Line, including eastern Yerushalayim and the Golan Heights.
The guidelines stipulate that every agreement between the EU and Israel must include a clause saying that it is not applicable beyond the Green Line.
Reflecting concern that signing on to such agreements would be viewed as prejudging a final agreement with the Palestinians, Israeli diplomats proposed adding a clause stipulating that this would have no bearing on the determination of future borders.
Israeli officials said Monday, however, that the EU essentially told Israel that while they would like Israel’s participation, the “guidelines are what they are,” and that the decision to join the program was up to Israel.
“They only showed flexibility on marginal issues,” one official said, adding that a decision whether to accept the conditions had to be made at the political level.
European sources maintained that the EU did show “flexibility” and was looking for a “pragmatic way of implementing the agreement.”
At the same time, one European source said, the EU also faces a dilemma. It does not want to be seen as granting a “victory” to Netanyahu or appear as backing down from its principles.