Europe Needs Israel, PN Member Elmar Brok Says

July 27, 2013

Elmar Brok, head of influential EU Parliament committee, says in a ‘Post’ interview that limiting cooperation with Israel is not in European interests and the EU is not married to the pre-1967 lines.

With the outbreak of the Six Day War in June 1967, a 21-year-old German student named Elmar Brok wrote to the IDF volunteering his service to protect the Jewish state.

Fortunately, as Brok has related the story a number of times over the years to Israeli officials, the war ended quickly, before the IDF could deal with this request. Forty-six years later, Brok is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the European Parliament, a notoriously difficult forum for Israel in Brussels. […]

On a visit this week to Jerusalem and Ramallah, during which – among others – he met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for nearly an hour, Brok told The Jerusalem Post that the timing of the publication last week of Europe’s new guidelines for engagement with Israeli entities beyond the Green Line was “catastrophic.”

“Do it three months before, three months afterward, but not that week,” he said of the week in which US Secretary of State John Kerry was struggling mightily to get the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

Not only was the timing bad, he said, but the guidelines themselves could be counterproductive for Europe, because they could chase Israel away from projects and programs that are beneficial for Europeans. […]

The controversial guidelines essentially do two things: they concretize in writing what has already been EU practice, that no EU money – in the forms of grants, prizes, or “financial instruments” such as loans – could be used by Israeli entities beyond the pre-1967 lines, including in east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

They also specify, however, that the contents of the guidelines will be reflected in future agreements, something known as a “territorial clause.”

There are different ways to word that clause, in a way that Israel could live with it – as was done most recently in the Open Skies aviation agreement – or using terminology that Israel will not be able to stomach.

The Open Skies agreement read: “The application of this agreement is understood to be without prejudice to the status of the territories that came under Israel’s administration after June 1967.”

That is language Israel can live with.

By contrast, the territorial clause of a draft for the next stage of the Euro- Med Youth Program read, “This agreement will be implemented in conformity with the European Union’s position that the territories that came under Israel’s administration in June 1967 are not part of the territory of Israel.”

That is wording Israel will not sign, not the least because it runs contrary to Israel’s own laws – Israel has formally annexed both Jerusalem and the Golan.

This issue will become very relevant next month, when negotiations begin on the EU’s massive 80 billion euro Horizon 2020 innovation flagship program meant to create jobs and fuel economic growth. Israel is the only non- EU country to have been asked to join as a full partner, and is expected to pay some 600 million euros over the next seven years to take part. This is considered a worthwhile investment, however, because for every shekel contributed, it is expected to get back NIS 1.5 in research funds and other inbound investments.

And here, Brok said, the Europeans need to be smart. The new guidelines will not go into effect until January 1, 2014, and in the meantime Israeli and European officials are expected to work on language that both sides can live with. Brok said that the EU position should be one that “takes the peace talks into account,” and also one that does not take up a position that is detrimental to European interests. […]

Brok acknowledged that “the quality of Israeli research” is among the best in the world, “and it would be stupid from our side to boycott that.” This sentiment, he said, was shared by many EU foreign ministers with whom he met last week.

The guidelines that were published made clear what the European position on the settlements is, Brok said (as if anyone had any doubt). But now when negotiations begin about how to implement those guidelines and the wording of future territorial clauses, it needs to be done in such a way as to not hurt the peace talks, “and that we should not come to the wrong results regarding overall cooperation [with Israel] in research and development.”

Make no mistake, Brok is not opposed to the guidelines. He questions, however, their timing and wants to ensure that the sides come to a “common interpretation” of what they mean and how and where they will be applied.

Like Israeli officials, Brok said the guidelines governing EU contracts and agreements with Israel were drawn up by the EU bureaucracy, which was working off a statement issued by the EU foreign ministers last December.

“The bureacratic machinery has been working on it for six months, and the machinery goes on,” he said over coffee Tuesday in a Jerusalem hotel, just prior to leaving for meetings in Ramallah with the Palestinian leadership.

This type of thing happens very often the world over, he said, explaining the phenomenon of a bureaucracy beginning work on a project, and then once in motion continuing with blinders, seemingly divorced from what is happening around it.

And what was going on outside the offices of the Brussels bureaucracy, he said, was an effort to restart negotiations.

“Since Friday the world is different,” he said of the Kerry announcement to re-launch talks in Washington.

“If the people in Brussels do not understand that, they have no understanding of politics.”

Asked if indeed just the announcement of talks has changed that much, he replied that if the purpose of the guidelines was to “create a certain pressure for peace talks” then now that the talks have been achieved “certain instruments are not helpful anymore.”

In this narrative, then, Kerry’s very announcement of talks – even though no one knows what will be their frame of reference or when they will start in earnest – has already altered the situation and made it a bit more favorable for Israel in Europe.

And if the talks really do get off the ground and begin to move, Brok said “there will be a new political debate in Europe in September.”

Brok said that the lack of any progress in the “peace process,” the “settlement question,” the “pictures from Gaza – TV pictures speak louder than arguments,” has created a negative “emotional dimension” for Israeli in the European Parliament.

“People say that David became Goliath,” he said. “More and more people think that.”

Brok said he did not share that attitude for a couple reasons. “First of all I hope that I think a little bit more strategically,” he said. “And secondly for historical reasons. I feel my responsibility to this state, as a German.” […]

Brok insisted that the parliament – a parliament that took close to three long years to ratify the ACAA free trade agreement in pharmaceutics with Israel because of political problems in getting it passed – is not anti-Israel. (All EU-Israel agreements must now be ratified by the European Parliament, one reason for that body’s importance to Israel.) “There is a very broad majority [in the parliament] to secure the State of Israel, but it feels the secure State of Israel should do more in order to find an agreement,” he said. “So in that sense it is not an anti-Israel development. Ninety percent in the European Parliament support the Jewish state of Israel.”

Challenged that many Israelis find hollow European protestations that they are concerned about Israeli security – at a time when it takes them nearly two decades to realize Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and when they are trying to press Israel back to 1967 lines which most Israeli leaders believe are indefeasible frontiers – Brok replied that there was now broad international agreement for a two-state solution.

“When we talk about the 1967 lines, that does not mean that at the end of the negotiations it must be the 1967 line completely,” he said.

“We believe that is the international line, the starting point, but I believe that the final drawing of the line will solely be the result of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not for us to judge that – if you reach an agreement on another line that is fine.”

Israel, Brok said, mistakenly believes that when Europe talks about the pre-1967 lines, “it is to the last millimeter of the 1967 lines.

That is not the case, there must be possibilities for compromise that takes the developments of the last two decades into account.” […]


PN Member Elmar Brok is Chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.

Originally published by The Jerusalem Post.

Photo by Prime Minister of Israel.

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