Concerns that Europol data would be used in the West Bank has prompted the European Commission to return to the negotiating table – but this time, they will face Israel’s incoming far-right government
A cooperation agreement five years in the making between the European Union’s policing agency and the Israel Police hit a setback on Monday, when the European Commission announced it would need to re-enter negotiations to clarify the deal’s inapplicability in the occupied territories. This may put the commission at odds with far-right parties in Israel’s incoming government.
In 2018, Israel signed a working agreement with Europol in order to tackle cross-border crime. An expansion to this deal, which was agreed upon in September but has not yet been signed or ratified, would allow the exchange of personal information to fight ‘serious crime and terrorism,” including biometric data on race, ethnicity, religious and political beliefs, and even sexual orientation.
But while the previous, more limited Israel-Europol working agreement did not explicitly restrict its application to Israel’s pre-1967 borders, the more recent draft agreement forbids extending the data sharing to Israeli-occupied territories.
At the same time, it allows for what one European source described as ‘unprecedented’ exceptions. These include the “prevention of a criminal offense in case of an imminent threat to life,” or, with Europol consent, when “necessary for the prevention, investigation, detection, or prosecution of criminal offenses.”
Israel’s envoy to the EU Haim Regev had already hailed the September agreement as a ‘milestone,’ but a legal opinion from the European Council’s Legal Service and growing opposition from member states makes it increasingly unlikely to come to fruition.
The legal opinion called to delete the exceptions, as they do not abide by the European Union’s policy since 2012 to “unequivocally and explicitly indicate the inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”
At least 13 out of 27 member states ‘reacted harshly’ to the use of its data in the occupied Palestinian territories, according to Swedish MEP Evin Incir.
While acknowledging that ‘data and information is not territory bound’ in the complex reality on the ground, Rob Rozenburg, Head of Law Enforcement Cooperation in the EU Commission, told the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs that ‘various delegations had concerns in relation…to the territorial clause and the exceptions that were proposed.’
A letter has been sent to the Israeli ambassador to the EU in order to kick-start a fifth round of negotiations, Rozenburg added, but the new far-right government may prove less forthcoming than its predecessors.
The one to oversee the implementation of this deal would be National Security Minister-designate Itamar Ben-Gvir. A far-right figure who was buoyed to power by a pro-settlement base, he would be unlikely to reach a compromise on the matter.
Depending on the leaning of its government, Israel has put up different levels of resistance to the European Union’s differentiation policy. In September, Naftali Bennett vetoed Israel’s entry into Creative Europe, a cultural cooperation program with the European Union, due to the same “territorial clause” that prevents extending the scheme to Israeli institutions in the West Bank.
In a rare move, a Memorandum of Understanding on natural gas between Israel, the European Union and Egypt signed in June 2022 omitted such a territorial clause.