Kerry asks EU to shelve Israel funding rules

Talks today to determine guidelines for Horizon 2020.

by Laura Greenhalgh ( | Research | 12 september 2013 |

American secretary of state John Kerry has asked the EU to ease its plan to implement guidelines that would limit Israeli participation in Horizon 2020 to institutions based within the nation’s pre-1967 borders.

Kerry’s unexpected intervention follows weeks of political manoeuvring after the EU said in July that Israeli participation in EU programmes—almost all of which is in research programmes—should not involve institutions in the so-called occupied territories. Although very little EU research goes on in such institutions, the stipulation has infuriated Israel, with some politicians calling for it to withdraw from Horizon 2020 altogether.

Israel, like Switzerland and several other non-EU member states, has historically participated in EU research programmes as an associate member, contributing
funds to cover the cost of its participation. It received €634 million in funding under Framework 7.

Meetings to discuss Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020, scheduled for the end of this month, have now been brought forward. Israeli and EU officials will meet today in Brussels to try to resolve the situation.

The dispute began after the EU published plans to confine grants, prizes and financial instruments to Israeli organisations located within the country’s pre-
1967 borders. This excludes the regions of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the sovereignty of which is strongly disputed.

According to the Commission, the guidelines merely formalise the situation as it was previously, reiterating the EU’s long-held position that its agreements with Israel do not cover the occupied territories. A spokesman for the Commission says that the EU did not provide funding directly to organisations in these regions under Framework 7, and only €1.5m was spent by Israeli entities in these areas.
But Israel said that the EU should not be attempting to determine the scope of Israel’s territorial borders, particularly in light of the resumption of talks under the Middle East Peace Process. “Israel doubts the political wisdom that lies beneath these measures, regarding both their content and their timing,” said the country’s ministry of foreign affairs in a statement.

On 8 September, Kerry—who is leading the peace talks—told a press conference in Paris that he had asked European ministers to reconsider the implementation
of the guidelines, to facilitate progress in the talks. “It’s not asking to change the policy; it is asking to suspend or delay its implementation while these talks are taking place,” he said.

Kerry’s announcement followed comments made by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign affairs representative, in Vilnius on 7 September. She said that EU
diplomats would be visiting Israel for discussions this week to make sure that the guidelines are implemented very sensitively. “We of course want to continue to
have a strong relationship with Israel,” she said.

Jonathan Rosenhead, an operational research specialist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and chairman of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, says that failure by the EU to implement the guidelines as they stand would be “a disastrous failure of nerve, and of principle”.

“The EU has been ignoring violations of international law by Israel in these areas for years, and this is the first, very moderate statement by the EU that says
it shouldn’t be doing this,” says Rosenhead. But Eli Pollak, a chemical physicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, says he believes the EU’s guidelines are “discriminatory and immoral”, and that the EU should not be mixing science
with politics.

If Israel does not sign up to Horizon 2020, Rosenhead says, the costs
will be more than financial. “Israel is integrated into the European
research community by the Framework programme,” he says. “If it became difficult for Israelis to be partners, they would lose all of those connections.”

Read also : World Jewish Congress lobbies Italy to take side in funding conflict

By Rebecca Hill | 04-09-2013 |