The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council chair Josep Borrell announced on Monday the council will resume its meetings with Israel after a decade-long hiatus.
Israel and the E.U.’s Association Agreement, signed in 1995 and ratified in 2000, was supposed to prompt bilateral diplomatic meetings every year since. The meetings were to focus on issues considered mutually important for the E.U. and Israel.
However, the last European-Israeli Association Council meeting took place in 2012. The next year, Israel canceled the bilateral council to protest an E.U. regulation that opposed cooperation with Israeli companies and entities that operate in, or have links to, Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
Like most countries worldwide, the E.U. does not recognize Israel’s claims to any part of the disputed territories that the Jewish state captured from Jordan during the defensive Six-Day War in 1967.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the E.U.’s decision to resume its dialogue forum with the Jewish state.
“The fact that 27 E.U. foreign ministers have voted unanimously in favor of strengthening economic and diplomatic ties with Israel is proof of Israel’s diplomatic strength and this government’s ability to create new opportunities with the international community,” Lapid said.
Unlike former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who often had tense relations with the Europeans, Lapid has long advocated for stronger ties with the E.U.
While announcing the resumption of talks with Israel, Borrell, the E.U.’s foreign policy chief, emphasized that the union’s position on a two-state solution had not changed.
“The position of the E.U. has not changed in respect to the Middle East peace process,” Borrell said, asserting that the disputed territories are de facto Palestinian.
“We know that the situation on the ground in the Palestinian territories is deteriorating, and ministers agreed that the Association Council would be a good occasion to engage with Israel on these issues,” he said.
Borrell is a long-time critic of Israeli policies in the disputed territories and reportedly was not in a hurry to resume dialogue with Israel.
In fact, an unnamed senior European official reportedly informed The Times of Israel last week that the E.U FAC chair wanted to postpone the resumption of the European-Israeli dialogue forum after the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.
Borrell allegedly also opposed the Israeli Defense Ministry’s decision to greenlight the construction of more than 4,000 new homes for Jewish residents in Judea and Samaria.
“There were two things that were unacceptable in terms of diplomacy – the killing of the journalist, and the announcement of 4,000 new settlements,” the European official told The Times of Israel.
“Borrell told us, ‘Can you imagine I am going to put on the agenda a meeting of cooperation with the images on TV …? Come on,’” added the European official.
However, Borrell reportedly changed his tune after pressure from different E.U. member states to revive the dialogue forum.
While often critical of Israeli policies in the disputed territories, France reportedly tried to advance a dialogue with Jerusalem during its presidency of the E.U. FAC, and French Ambassador to Israel Éric Danon has welcomed the decision to reactivate the forum.
“We are looking forward to deepening the E.U.-Israel relations through the convening of the Association Council. We are currently working toward this perspective, mindful of the political and technical conditions pertaining to the E.U. rules and framework,” said Danon.
Shai Bazak, the CEO of ELNET-Israel, a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening European-Israeli relations, welcomed the dialogue forum’s revival.
“We are very pleased to see the European Union take action, after more than a quarter of all MPs signed the letter calling for the resumption of the Association Council. This will benefit both Israel and the E.U., and will boost the already prosperous ties between Israel and the E.U.,” Bazak said.
During a visit to Israel in late May, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola stressed the importance of European-Israeli relations and vowed to combat rising anti-Semitism. Metsola praised the historic Abraham Accords as a blueprint for peace between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.