Future EU money for Israeli projects will be tied to the condition that it doesn't end up in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. Is this a change of course by the European Union?
Israeli media write the EU is boycotting their country. Politicians say that Brussels is now wielding the stick, after having dangled the carrot. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quoted with claiming there was an attempt to set Israel's borders with economic pressure rather than negotiations.
What exactly is it the EU Commission has agreed on? Starting in 2014, for every new Israeli project the EU plans to sponsor, there will have to be a document signed, promising that no EU money will be invested in Israeli projects in the Westbank, east Jerusalem or on the Golan Heights. Israeli organizations are not supposed to have outlets in the contested territories.
What the EU is trying to make clear is that for Brussels, Israel has the borders of before the Six-Day War of 1967 – and that settlements beyond those borders are against international law. The Commission's declaration is to be published on Friday and will then be official.
The new rules would only apply to future contracts, though, i.e. none of the already existing deals would be affected. German EU politician Alexandra Thein would have preferred it otherwise. "I personally would like this declaration to also affect existing contracts, but from a legal perspective this will hardly be possible," the Middle East expert told Deutsche Welle. This means that despite the new rule, EU money will still end up in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, she explains.
EU foreign police chief Catherine Ashton does not want to attach too much significance to the agreement. The approach wasn't new, she said, but merely a way of putting things a bit more clear cut. It had been clear for months if not even years, that the EU was heading in this direction, Thein adds. And only "a small number of cases" would be affected, according to Ashton.
It remains unclear how many millions of euros would flow into Israel in future years. The EU supports a host of different programs: research projects, youth programs, sports and police projects. But currently for instance, cosmetics company Ahava also receives research money. The company is producing in the West Bank and as of 2014 will most likely not be funded anymore, Thein explains.
Before the EU can decide on new funds, Israel has to file new requests, Thein explains. Many Israelis could reject to do so, however, as it might be interpreted as accepting the EU's position, historian Tamar Amar-Dahl believes. "For the current government there is no debate that the new settlement might not be a part of Israel," Amar-Dahl says.
No change of paradigm
Despite the noise, political scientist Jochen Hippler does not expect a change of paradigm in the EU's Middle East police. "It's all happening at a really slow pace. Now they've just taken another small step." In Hippler's opinion, the actions will not affect the Middle East peace process.
"This is a symbolic step for the EU," the political scientist tells DW. "It shows that with all its quarelling and disagreements, sometimes the EU leadership really mean what they say." The EU would come off stronger as a result, says Hippler.
'Made in Israel'?
No further EU measures against Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories are on the horizon. For years, there has been talk about whether products from the West Bank or the Golan Heights should be specially marked. In many EU countries, labels continue to say "Made in Israel," be it on cosmetics, wine, oranges or olives. The products are produced by Israeli companies- but int the occupied territories.
The EU is looking into whether this is a violation of consumer rights, according to which the country of origin needs to be specified on a product. But as of now, it's still unclear whether and when the EU will tackle that problem.