The issue of European Union restrictions on participation in activities over Israel’s Green Line continues to roil. By any reasonable measure, the rules made no sense when promulgated and even less now. Yet the EU is resisting American efforts to push back their effective date. And though Secretary of State Kerry’s urging them to do so is welcome, his peculiarly-worded statement raises a concern of its own.
Back in July, the EU issued guidelines, to take effect next month, banning the financing of Israeli institutions in territory seized in 1967 or cooperating with them generally. Thus, the guidelines say that any agreements involving research grants, scholarships and cultural exchanges must be limited to institutions within Israel’s pre-June 1967 borders.
It was widely understood at the time that the rules were adopted in order to prod Israel to go back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. Indeed, they were drafted while Secretary Kerry was in the Middle East trying to broker a resumption of talks.
We’ve always thought the rationale for the new rules was somewhat odd since it was Israel that had long declared its willingness to return to the negotiating table while the Palestinians insisted on substantive concessions by Israel as preconditions to their return.
In any case, now that both sides have returned to negotiations, it is hard to understand why the EU won’t agree to suspend the starting date for the new rules. Hard but not impossible, because it’s clear the EU has adopted the Palestinian narrative as Truth Incarnate.
In fact, this is what Hanan Ashrawi, a leading member of the PLO executive committee of the PLO (which includes Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party) had to say – rather duplicitously – about American efforts to get the rules suspended:
The announcement of the EU guidelines was a very positive step which played a significant role in the decision to resume negotiations…. Reports of U.S. lobbying the EU on behalf of Israel are extremely discouraging and cast serious doubts on the U.S. mediation role.
So, perversely, American efforts to level the playing field for negotiations somehow favor Israel and put into question the ability of the U.S. to act as a mediator.
Though the Obama administration continues to strongly support Israel in the international arena, as President Obama has promised to do on several occasions, we were taken aback by Secretary Kerry’s rationale for the U.S. effort regarding the EU guidelines:
I think it’s important that the Israeli people and the government see that coming to the talks, taking the risk of moving towards peace is worthwhile…. Because he [Prime Minister Netanyahu] has paid some political price for making his decision, I think it’s important for Europe to say in return, “See what this gets? This gets a change in our relationship, a change for the better.”
We would have liked to hear a more principled explanation – something along the lines of “until talks result in borders to which both sides are agreeable, Israel is entitled to retain the land it seized in a war of self-defense whose end was codified by a UN resolution calling for some of the land, not all, to be returned through a negotiated settlement.”