Can the EU’s settlement exclusion push the U.S. to follow suit?

Every agreement the European Union signs with Israel as of 2014 will explicitly exclude all territories beyond the Green Line. The U.S. also doesn’t recognize Israel’s settlements, begging the question of why it doesn’t also take such measures.

The European Union will only enter cooperative agreements with Israel if it explicitly excludes the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, Haaretz‘s Barak Ravid reported Tuesday. This means all Israeli government institutions and groups across Israel’s pre-1967 borders (the Green Line) will be automatically disqualified from receiving grants, funding, prizes or scholarships from the EU. In other words, Israel will be forced to recognize in writing, upon entering agreements with the EU, that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not part of the state.

According to the Guardian the EU guidelines:

…set out the territorial limitations under which the Commission will award EU support to Israeli entities … Concern has been expressed in Europe that Israeli entities in the occupied territories could benefit from EU support. The purpose of these guidelines is to make a distinction between the State of Israel and the occupied territories when it comes to EU support.

Prime Minister Netanyahu called a special discussion Tuesday evening with a few cabinet members and released a strong statement rejecting the move. “We will not accept any foreign dictates about our borders. This matter will only be determined through direct negotiations,” he said, adding that the EU should be more preoccupied with Syria and Iran.

But what borders exactly is he talking about? Israel’s borders are not clearly defined nor are they internationally recognized; neither in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which have been annexed, nor in the West Bank, which has not. If Netanyahu wants to make statements about Israel’s borders, he must openly define them – which means coming to terms with annexation (something many in his Likud party and others further right have openly called for) or face withdrawal, which is what the EU is now starting to force him to do.

Earlier Tuesday, an Israeli official who spoke to Haaretz called it an “earthquake” and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin not surprisingly condemned the move  as “a big mistake” that encourages Palestinians to avoid negotiations. According to The Jerusalem Post Housing Minister Uri Ariel called the move racist. “This is a decision marked with racism and discrimination against the Jewish People that is reminiscent of boycotts against Jews from over 66 years ago.” Settler leaders have responded by calling on the government to annex Area C the West Bank, and the Yesha Council (the settler political organization) has called on the state to ban all EU projects for Palestinians in Israel-controlled Area C. Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On insisted the move was not a boycott but rather a positive step that determines Israel’s borders, something the government has failed to do.

+972 asked the U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Tel Aviv for its reaction to the move, but said it had no comment. According to Barak Ravid however, a U.S. official warned that should Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts at restarting negotiations fail, it is likely the EU will take even more measures against Israeli settlements. In this sense, the anonymous U.S. official was implying that Israel would be blamed for the deadlock in peace talks as a result of its continued settlement project.

The move made top headlines in Israeli media Tuesday – both in English and Hebrew – presented as a major rift to Israel-EU relations and to Israel’s economy specifically. But it should be noted that in effect, all the EU is doing is implementing a decision that reflects its longstanding policy, according to which the settlements are not part of Israel and that they are an obstacle to the two-state solution.

This has also been the U.S. stated policy for decades, so it seems only natural that it would follow suit – it will therefore be interesting to see if and how it responds. After all, if it supports the EU decision, the major question will be why the U.S. is not doing the same; and if the U.S. condemns it, the major question will be why it is condemning a move that reflects its own policy.

Update (10 p.m., July 16):
The article was updated to add Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement.

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