PA President Abbas (R) meets EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini
PA President Abbas (R) meets EU foreign policy chief Federica MogheriniFlash 90

A number of government ministers were surprised to discover this week that, without notice, under their noses, an agreement was signed with the European Union that could have very significant implications for the State of Israel vis-a-vis the PA, B’Sheva revealed this morning, Thursday.

This is an agreement called the "Transboundary Cooperation Program in the Mediterranean Basin" and is aimed at financing projects costing tens of millions of euros for 14 non-EU countries in the Middle East, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which is also defined as a political entity.

The agreement includes, inter alia, a clause stating that for Israel, the agreement does not apply beyond the Green Line, in eastern Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights. In the areas under the Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, it applies without any qualifications. In other words, Israeli entities in Judea and Samaria, eastern Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights will not be able to participate in the projects and receive funding. The PA is enjoying a privilege here that no previous agreement has given it: it will not only be responsible for projects in the Palestinian Authority, but will be able to seek support for projects in the areas that, according to the Oslo Accords and other agreements, are under Israeli sovereignty. These include Area C, which is certainly under Israeli control and eastern Jerusalem - where the Palestinian Authority has no legal status and, therefore, should not have a foothold as a decision-maker.

What kind of projects does the PA want to implement within the framework of this agreement with the EU? For example, the PA wants the EU to invest in a project that promotes the "Palestinian heritage" of Sebastia, one of the places where Israel has actually consolidated its control in recent years. Another project on the agenda of the Palestinian Authority is activity at one of the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, a place that is, by all accounts, under Israeli sovereignty. A long list of projects aimed at undermining Jewish heritage and the State of Israel is on the PA’s agenda.

How did this happen? How was such an agreement approved without any significant protest? The story of the approval of this agreement begins on December 13. All government ministers received a request to approve the agreement, stating that "in accordance with sections 10 and 19 (b) of the government's work regulations, if no reservation is filed within a week, it will acquire the force of a government decision."

In background information received by ministers, it was noted that "the agreement includes a clause delineating the extent of Israel's territory, similar to the one adopted in the Horizon 2020 plan, and approved by a government decision ... This, while making an explicit statement of Israel's position in principle regarding the status of areas that came under the administration of the State of Israel after June 5, 1967, and the determination that this does not harm the status of these areas." It was further noted that the Ministries of Finance, Interior and Justice supported the approval of the agreement. There was no trick on the part of the prime minister or cabinet secretary. Most ministers, as in many decisions of this kind, simply did not read or understand it. Minister Miri Regev, who understood that the proposal was at the very least problematic and required amendments, exercised her right and submitted a reservation. It was in headlines for a day, and some of the cabinet ministers who understood what was happening did not bother to present reservations of their own - because they relied on Regev's.

On Monday, some ministers were surprised to hear from the cabinet secretary that the decision had been approved. These were ministers who wanted to hold a discussion on the plan at the upcoming cabinet meeting because of the inherent problems with it. The Cabinet Secretary made it clear to the ministers that asked him about the matter that Regev's reservations were recorded as opposition to the decision - and in fact as a vote against. Because Regev did not explicitly request an additional hearing, however, the automatic approval of the agreement came into force. Other ministers who had counted on Regev's opposition were left with a decision that not a few had wanted to oppose or work to amend, but who missed the train, each for his own reasons.

Agreement amounts to boycott of many areas in Israel

But the red lights should have lit up sooner. This week, the Knesset Yesha lobby and the Yesha Council sent letters to the Prime Minister about the new agreement. Yesha Council chairman Hananel Dorani wrote to Netanyahu, "This signature expresses agreement with a boycott of many areas in the State of Israel and severe discrimination against Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley." He also pointed to the fact that "what's more serious is the agreement that 'Palestine' will carry out projects in these areas, which means foreign recognition in the homeland of the Jewish people."

Several senior political sources responded to this claim. One told Arutz Sheva that a similar agreement was already signed between the EU and the PA, and therefore projects can be implemented even if Israel is not party to the agreement. "If Israel signs the document, there is then need for unanimous approval of each project, and it will thus be able to block problematic or anti-Israeli Palestinian projects." The sources add that "at the end of the day, the European Union provides budgets for projects that are vital to us - and the State of Israel shouldn't give up these budgets."

"The advantages of signing this agreement exceed the disadvantages," he said, adding that "Palestine is not defined by the European Union according to borders, and they do not recognize 'Palestine' according to the 1967 borders, and this is an entity that is represented by the Palestinian Authority." The sources add that there are several types of loopholes through which the problem of investing in Israeli projects beyond the Green Line can be circumvented - including maintaining a second mailing address within the Green Line of the institution seeking project support.

This explanation does not satisfy leaders of the Land of Israel lobby, MKs Betzalel Smotrich and Yoav Kish. According to them, "Israel is required to agree, formally and practically, to Palestinian sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem beyond the Green Line."

They add that "According to the agreement's details, not only will Israel not be able to promote its own projects in these areas, but the State will be responsible for overseeing projects in areas defined as 'occupied Palestinian territories' by the State of Israel." The two also warn that "Israel will not be able to intervene in the choice of projects in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria or in their management, when it is already known that some such projects openly undermine these areas."

About four years ago, Israel signed an agreement called Horizon 2020 for scientific cooperation with the European Union, which also excluded the area beyond the Green Line. At the time a more significant political storm arose than the one that ended before it began in today's political system - and a compromise was reached whereby an Israeli reservation would appear in the agreement on the territorial clause. About a year ago, Minister Regev succeeded in stopping an agreement in the field of culture and media that sought to relate to settlement in a manner similar to that of the current agreement. Then, it dropped from the agenda; this time, except for Regev, most of the ministers fell asleep on duty.

Smotrich and Kish are bewildered by the conduct. "These days, when President Trump has been admirably fighting in the UN arena for the status of Jerusalem, the Israeli government should have made it clear to the world that united Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria are not for sale in exchange for a handful of euros." Another senior official on the right spoke more pointedly, "If the Horizon agreement was a far-fetched solution to an extreme situation and not perceived as status quo, then this plan goes beyond extreme situations. The EU is undermining us in our own land and in our capital, and we're not supposed to accept it but to act against it."

This struggle appears over. During the past week, Arutz Sheva spoke with a number of senior coalition partners and their position was that this agreement is not good and requires further study and changes. Now that it's a fait accompli, none of them intends to produce a crisis or express indignation over it. The ministers also know that there is little meaning or reason for action on their part. This is an approved government decision; in order to change it, it is necessary that the Prime Minister himself request another hearing - and this scenario is not even counted among the most rosy dreams of the greatest optimists in the government.

The political establishment is quite pleased this agreement was approved, after the arduous staff work performed on the document in question.