Leading Israeli ministers would rather pass up on European Union research grants worth hundreds of millions of euro, than sign up to an agreement that would see the government agreeing to an anti-settlement clause.
Deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin – himself a West Bank settler – said that while Israel was willing to negotiate with the EU, “if the conditions [remain] as they are today, which are unprecedented ... we can’t sign,” he told Israel Radio.
Many Israelis reacted with outrage last month when the EU told member states that agreements with the Jewish state, which include awards, grants and prizes must specifically exclude East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which are considered to be occupied Palestinian Territory.
The row is over the terms of the EU’s new Horizon 2020. Israel – a country that prides itself a technology hub – could normally expect to receive about €1bn from the scheme. The EU has long protested about the presence of the more than 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
Talks between the two sides are expected soon and earlier Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu convened a committee to try and find a resolution.
Mr Elkin, a member of the committee, said that the EU was asking Israel to question its own sovereignty.
“The dispute here is about Jerusalem and the dispute is over the question over whether the sovereign border that we laid down is in force or not,” he said. “If you begin to discriminate among various bodies located within your sovereign territory, it means you are effectively denying the sovereignty you declared.”
The EU, and most other countries and international bodies recognise Israel, but consider settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967, the same year as the West Bank was occupied.
It is likely that any lasting peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians would include a provision for some settlements to become part of Israel as part of a land swap agreement.
Zehava Galon of the left wing Meretz Party accused Israel’s hawkish government of risking Israel’s participation in the EU programme.
“This is what a sinking ship looks like when its captains decide to establish the State of Judea [the biblical term used by some Israelis for the West Bank] while destroying the future of Israel,” she told Israel Radio. “Because this is destroying the scientific future of Israel, Israeli research.”
Talks to resume on Wednesday
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will resume substantive peace talks in Jerusalem next week. The two sides are expected to meet on Wednesday, after the first batch of Palestinian prisoners is released.
The talks will later move on to Jericho, in the West Bank.
It is not known which of the many contentious issues will be discussed first, but the Palestinians are already angry that the Israeli cabinet has approved a plan to build 800 new settler homes in the West Bank. Settlements – considered illegal under international law – are one of main sticking points between the two sides.