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Horizon 2020 and Israel: not just a mere question of border

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Commonly known as “start up nation”, Israel is still leading global scientific research, despite its little population and a serious international situation. This is due to two key-points: first, a competitive R&D investments, which brought high quality to Israeli universities; second, a public driven linkage between scientific research and commercial companies, which produces more investments in R&D. As a matter of fact, Israel has been included in Horizon 2020, the European Union (EU) €80 million funding program as the only non-European State that could join in. But something is going wrong – and it's getting worse as time and actors go by. All began in July, when the new guidelines, issued by the European Commission expressly in view of Horizon 2020, stated that “in the case of grants and prizes, only Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel’s pre-1967 borders will be considered eligible”. This statement has created a strong opposition by the Israeli government, as Israel was ready to renew its great performances in the previous program, the EU 7th Framework Program (Fp7).

Israel has been one of the three non-Member States of the EU to participate to Fp7, as a result of a bilateral agreement signed in 2007. 1584 Israeli researchers won a total €634 million under the 7FP, becoming the third country for receiving European Research Council (ERC) grants after UK and Germany. But the Israeli participation to Fp7 had created some embarrass to the EU since some funds had been won by a private company, Ahava, which has offices and laboratories in the West Bank. European public opinion was informed about that when 250 European academics signed an open letter to ban Ahava from future funding programs. So, after one year, the Commission decided to strengthen its longtime policy toward Jewish entities in the West Bank, by formally prevent them to join Horizon 2020.

The guidelines apply on the entities west of the Green Line, an armistice border set up after the Arab defeat in the Six Days War (June 1967). In the west side of the Line lays Israel as internationally recognized country, in the east side a territory (commonly known as West Bank) where Israel gives military protection and financial aid to new Jewish settlers. Many international organizations protest heavy violations of human rights due to the Israeli military occupation in this area. Today, there are only three entities in the West Bank that could join H2020: the first, the Jewish University, had been excluded from guidelines ban (par. 13.2) due to its historical and academical relevance; the other two are about to be banned: the Ariel University, boycotted even by  other Israeli Universities, is entirely located in the West Bank; the other is Ahava, a cosmetic company virtually based in Israel but with offices and laboratories in the West Bank, which had received €1.4 million from Fp7, as it joined some programs on potential inflammation risks in using nanoparticles.

Despite their longtime political background, their little practical effects and their sole effects on financial aids directly managed by EU, the guidelines have been heavily condemned by the main Israeli institutions. At first Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, clearly state that “we will not accept any external edicts on our borders”; then he personally called the main European leaders to ask to procrastinate the effects of the guidelines. Israeli Minister of Finance, Labin, menaced that the Horizon 2020 ban will affect all the cultural, economic and political cooperation programs between Israel and the EU. To these alarming positions, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton answered that “the guidelines are simply putting down on paper what is currently the EU position since long time”. This was at the end of July, but in September the situation got worse.

In a meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania on 7th September, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, endorsed Netanyahu position by saying that these guidelines might have a bad effect on the renewed Palestinian-Israeli talks. After Kerry's declaration, Ashton decided to send some diplomats in Jerusalem, to find a way out, while fifteen former European officials and Heads of State, in a letter address to Ashton, called on the EU not to relax the new guidelines. At the moment their request have been accomplished, as the Jerusalem meeting ended last week leading to nothing. Many commentators say that the solution will be found (if so) only in mid-November, and will be a mere question of words, not substance. 

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