'We won't accept foreign dictates over our borders'
Prime minister says anyone concerned with peace should focus first on more "urgent" regional issues, like the Syria conflict or Iranian nuclear ambitions • Netanyahu urges EU to defer implementing the decision until after peace efforts are exhausted.
Shlomo Cesana, Mati Tuchfeld, Gideon Alon, Zeev Klein, Edna Adato
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about news of EU directive on Tuesday
Photo credit: GPO
Ariel University, pictured here, will probably lose grants due to the EU decision
Photo credit: Yehoshua Yosef
"We will not accept any foreign dictate over our borders," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified on Tuesday after a European Union directive limiting financial cooperation between the EU and Jewish bodies in the settlements was revealed. On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry and Netanyahu himself were busy urging EU officials to defer implementing the decision, which could cost Israel billions of dollars, until after peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians are exhausted, Israel Radio reported.
The directive means that the EU will not longer, for example, be party to any economic, social or academic arrangement with an Israeli institution that operates beyond the pre-1967 borders, which includes Judea and Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
In a pointed announcement Tuesday, Netanyahu condemned the directive. "I would expect anyone who truly cares about peace and stability to make time to address this particular issue only after solving some far more urgent issues in the region, like the civil war in Syria or Iran's race toward obtaining a nuclear weapon," Netanyahu said. "As prime minister of Israel, I will not allow hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem, our united capital, to be harmed."
"We will not accept any foreign dictate over our borders. The issue will be resolved only through direct negotiations between the parties," Netanyahu declared.
Sources within the EU delegation in Israel were astonished on Tuesday that the news of the directive had taken Israeli officials by surprise. They contended that the Foreign Ministry had been given plenty of advance notice to prepare. "Our stance is clear" about the settlement issue, one official said. Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, for their part, insisted that the European directive was handed to them only two days ago.
Homefront Defense Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the EU decision will significantly harm the State of Israel. He added further that the decision provides the Palestinians with yet another incentive not to return to the negotiating table, suggesting that the drive to placate the growing Muslim population in Europe may have been behind the directive to begin with.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that the directive was a "bad decision," but that she hoped it would prompt Israel to reevaluate and draw new insights. She said that the state of diplomatic stagnation inevitably creates a vacuum into which the international community will always try to insinuate itself, adding that Israel should view the EU directive as a "wake up call."
The directive mandates that "all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967."
The EU explained that the goal of the directive was to draw a solid line between the state of Israel and the "occupied territories," especially over issues that concern EU cooperation.
In Jerusalem, officials said that the EU directive essentially determines that -- given the absence of an agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinians -- 100 percent of the territory in Judea and Samaria belong de facto to the Palestinians.
Deputy EU Ambassador to Israel Sandra de Waelerebuffed claims that the EU move was an attempt to influence Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a territorial settlement. Speaking with Army Radio, she said there was nothing novel about EU policy over Israeli settlements. Clarifying the EU position in writing and in future agreements were the new elements, she added.
Still, even if the announcement did not mark a policy shift, the declarative element was enough to compel the prime minister to call a special meeting with Livni, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin.
"This announcement is very concerning, it will make things difficult for Israel, and it is regrettable," Elkin said.
His Likud colleague, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, shared his colleague's displeasure.
"It's nothing new, several countries throughout the world consider the territories in Judea and Samaria occupied and act accordingly," Ya'alon said. "We have our own policy on Judea and Samaria, and we'll continue according to that policy and our interests."
Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) said that "the decision is festering with racism and serious discrimination against the Jewish nation, it recalls boycotts against the Jews in Europe more than 66 years ago."
Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) expressed concern over the directive, saying, "This decision potentially means that 40 percent of research and development grants to Israel will be affected."
Finance Minister and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid said the EU decision was "unfortunate."
"The directive was delivered with poor timing, it sabotages U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to bring both parties to the negotiating table," he said. "Every day that Israel is absent from the negotiating table, is another day that our international standing is jeopardized."
"The decision is a rattling wake-up call," she said. "From now on, I hope anyone who thought we could continue in this deadlock, claiming we've never had it better, understands that we must move to open negotiations, because this is the only way to maintain Israel's political, security, and economic interests."
Reactions varied in the Knesset opposition as well. Opposition and Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, said, "Unfortunately, instead of supporting and aiding hasty American efforts to renew talks, the EU focused on sanctions and boycotts. The prime minister must immediately enter negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, aiming for a permanent arrangement."
MK Omer Bar-Lev, a member of Yachimovich's Labor Party, said, "The delusion that the Right is trying to leave us, that the status quo is working for our benefit, suffered today another defeat with the European Union's announcement."
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said, "The [European] Union isn't boycotting Israel, it's making an understanding over what Israel is, and what are settlements and occupation are. The European Union is doing good by Israel by demarcating the border that the Israeli government failed to delineate."
Meanwhile, left-wing organizations welcomed the directive. The Gush Shalom movement compared the decision to "a bucket of cold water dumped on a drunkard's head."
"The EU decision was meant to remind the Israeli government, drunk with power, of the reality in which we live," a statement on the Gush Shalom website said. "The government in Israeli is waging a losing battle with no-chance over an illegitimate project that carries heavy political damage."
Peace Now also issued a statement, saying, "The decision was expected and is necessary. It is impossible to force the world to cooperate with the settlements and take part in a project that contradicts democracy."
Bennett called the EU decision an "economic terror attack against any chance for peace."
According to Bennett, "The Europeans are drawing lines and the Palestinians now have no need to come and negotiate. The Europeans want to be involved in the political process? Well then they should stop taking unilateral steps. Neither [EU foreign policy chief Catherine] Ashton nor the European Commission will force us to give Jerusalem to our enemies. This won't happen under our watch. It's the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria who are going to suffer by this now."
Bennett, whose ministry is responsible for signing off on most trade agreements with the EU, said in an interview with Channel 2 news that "this decision destroys any chance of starting the talks that they [the Europeans] want."
"This isn't the sort of political tsunami that you are suggesting," he said. "There have been embargoes and boycotts for 65 years. I travel the world, I look at the facts. Trade in Europe and China is growing. This [directive] concerns grants from the European Commission, and even they're at odds with themselves."