At the European Jewish Community Center (EJCC) in Brussels tonight, a crowd of Hannukah celebrants listened intently to a rather unlikely guest – Catherine Ashton, the Foreign Minister for the European Union. Tension has mounted over the previous week as the European Union (EU) and Israel squabbled over the language and implications of a little-heralded but far-reaching initiative. Ashton’s presence was welcomed at the candle-lighting ceremony on the eve of Hannukah following a surprising bout of international capitulation.
“The lighting of candles plays an important part in shining the light of hope across the world,” Ashton reflected aloud before the gathering. The platitude in this instance is well-earned; the handshakes and backslapping come only 24 hours after Ashton and the Israeli Minister of Justice, Tzipi Livni, hammered out a Hannukah miracle in the form of a deal to allow Israel’s participation in the EU’s Horizon 2020 project.
Horizon 2020 is a groundbreaking funding initiative that is intended to bolster both global innovation and Europe’s position within the research environment. The protocol is designed to circumvent the numerous legal barriers that prevent European public and private capital from finding its way into the hands of deserving scientists in third-world and non-agreement countries. Horizon 2020 provides a framework to circulate money, data, and personnel across sovereign borders without quite as much of the lengthy bureaucracy or threat of derailment that is usually attendant to international ventures.
Although Europe accounts for less than a tenth of the world’s population, a quarter of the world’s research budgeting and a full third of new patent applications can be sourced to the continent. The EU’s Innovation Union, a precursor to and progenitor of Horizon 2020, identified a need for a more robust globalization of Europe’s assets in the face of emerging economies such as China, Russia, and Brazil. The current initiative asks, Why compete instead of cooperate?
Israel found a reason. The EU recognizes the borders of the Jewish nation as encompassed by the so-called “Green Line”, an unofficial but widely used name for the demarcation outlined by the Armistice Agreements of 1949 that separate Israel from its neighbors. Jewish settlements have been appearing beyond those borders for decades, causing strife with adjacent countries and the international community as to the legality of the encroachments. The EU refuses to recognize the annexed land, and therefore originally refused to include language facilitating the exchange of European money with entities that could potentially funnel the cash to regions that could be considered illicit. The EU furthermore included a clause that stated any cooperation with Israel would not prevent or preclude similar cooperation with those nations with which Israel remains in conflict.
Israel, for its part, insisted that entering into the Horizon 2020 agreement would amount to capitulation to international opinion as long as the documentation contained any legal proclamations about the status of Jewish settlements. Representatives also argued that the provisions that exclude funding to technological and research entities that may participate in the expansion was much too broad to be of very much use to the country at large.
In the days and hours leading up to Hannukah, a round-robin of telephone conversations between Ashton and Livni resulted in an unlikely compromise in which the parties agreed that both could be right. The EU inserted a revised clause repeating its stance on interaction with Israel’s settlements and neighbors, and Israel contributed its own text reiterating its refusal to recognize the EU’s authority to comment on the legal status of the annexed territories. Both sides further agreed to do what they could to prevent European money from crossing the Green Line.
As Hannukah begins anew, observers are reminded of the infinite miracles that are still possible. Not the least of these is the unlikely but mutually beneficial capitulation of governments that originally seemed destined to disagree on matters of international law.
By Daniel Annear