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EU issues new guidelines on West Bank — but do they matter?

A senior Israeli diplomat serving in Europe downplayed the importance of E.U. guidelines designed to exclude Israeli settlements from certain benefits.

Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA

July 17, 2013 | 10:04 am

There’s been much handwringing this week about a set of new European Union directives that render Israeli projects in eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank ineligible for EU funding or grants.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an indignant statement saying he would “not allow the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan to be harmed” by the new regulations and suggesting that the European Union invest its energy in stopping the civil war in Syria or Iran’s nuclear program.

Bibi was outdone by Uri Ariel, Israel’s minister of housing from the Jewish Home party, who reportedly compared the guidelines to boycotts against Jews in Europe 76 years ago.

Haaretz, which broke the story Tuesday, described the guidelines this way: “The European Union has published a guideline for all 28 member states forbidding any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Actually, no. For one thing, the guidelines apply only to the EU, not to its member states. And according to the guidelines, a copy of which was obtained by JTA (they are due to be published Friday), the benefits in question are “grants … prizes and financial instruments to dedicated investment vehicles.”

“Only Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel’s pre-1967 borders will be considered eligible,” reads the document, whose stated aim is “to ensure the respect of EU positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.”

An unnamed senior Israeli official quoted by Haaretz describes the guidelines as an “earthquake,” saying, “This is the first time such an official, explicit guideline has been published by the European Union bodies.”

That’s true only if one ignores the Dec. 10, 2012, statement by EU foreign ministers 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.”

Then there’s the statement by the EU’s 27 foreign ministers last year saying they support labeling Israeli goods from settlements, an issue whose likely economic impact probably dwarfs the effect of an odd grant or prize.

According to The New York Times, the EU is trying to downplay the significance of the guidelines. The newspaper also reported that the guidelines could complicate John Kerry’s efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by hardening Israeli positions at a delicate moment.

But actual impact on the ground? A senior Israeli diplomat in Europe told JTA on condition of anonymity that the guidelines are “much ado about nothing” because the European Union already declines to reward Israeli entities and activities based in areas it believes Israel is illegally occupying.

“For many years, any engagement with the EU has a territorial clause, which means it does not apply to areas the EU doesn’t regard as belonging to Israel,” the diplomat said.

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