Israel Returns to the European Union’s Science Program

Israel and the European Union have reached an agreement allowing Israel to join the Horizon Europe scientific research funding program, which contains a contentious clause prohibiting funds from being used in east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, or Judea and Samaria. 

Horizon Europe, with a budget of €95.5 billion ($111 billion), is the EU’s largest research and development initiative to date. The Horizon Europe initiative has previously assisted Israel in funding technical research and development in academia and the corporate sector. 

Israel’s participation in Horizon strengthens Israel’s position as a key player in the world’s largest and most important research and development program. 

The geographical exclusion clauses from the previous seven years, Horizon 2020, are included in the 2021-2027 Horizon Europe program, which was politically and diplomatically contentious when they were negotiated in 2013. 

Tzipi Livni, then-justice minister, negotiated an agreement with Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign envoy at the time, in 2013, that included a compromise proposed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, then-economy minister. On legal and political grounds, Israel rejects the exclusion of Judea and Samaria, according to an appendix. 

The agreement also mandates that any Israeli company, institution, or academic institute seeking European loans or grants establish a process to verify that the money is not invested across the Green Line. 

The government and Knesset are likely to ratify the deal with its settlement exclusion clauses now that a final text has been produced. 

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who were previously foreign minister and deputy foreign minister, respectively, were staunch opponents of the 2013 accord. Bennett, while being the economy minister, did not sign the agreement; instead, then-science minister Ya’acov Peri did. 

Elkin initially opposed an earlier form of the Horizon 2020 deal, but after he and Bennett negotiated a “softer” version of the territorial conditions, he and the rest of Likud’s ministers accepted it. 

Elkin will support the agreement this time if it is the same version as in 2013. At the same time, the cabinet resolved on Sunday to contribute NIS 70 million to improve Ariel University and ease budgetary challenges for its students, owing to a demand made by Elkin and the New Hope Party during coalition discussions. 

When the government considered annexing Israeli cities in Judea and Samaria last year, it was expected that if it went ahead with annexation, Israel would be left out of the Horizon program. When Israel signed the Abraham Accords for peace and normalization with the United Arab Emirates, that idea was shelved. 

In recent years, Israel’s membership in Horizon Europe was negotiated between the Foreign Ministry, the Finance, Justice, and Innovation, Science and Technology ministries, as well as the Council for Higher Education, and the EU, and the program is considered the flagship partnership between the two sides. The agreement is scheduled to be signed in December. 

The pact demonstrates Europe’s faith in Israel as a source of science, technology, and innovation. By expanding scientific agreements with Israel to encompass those territories, as well as the Golan Heights, the US put the Trump administration’s assertion that settlements in Judea and Samaria are not illegal per se into effect. The updated versions of those accords were signed at Ariel University in October 2020, and they have not been revoked by the Biden administration. 

500 academics from Europe and Israel signed a statement in March urging the EU to ensure that no EU funding is used for initiatives involving Ariel University, which is located on the other side of the Green Line. They cited examples of Ariel University’s involvement in Horizon 2020 projects, claiming that it was “falsely indicated on project material as located in Israel”.