EU foreign ministers have agreed to renew the EU-Israel Association Council for the first time since 2012. The annual high-profile meeting between European foreign ministers and their Israeli counterpart was set up by EU states in 1995 to promote partnership on matters such as trade and foreign relations. However, political differences have prevented the council convening for the past decade.
Israel cancelled a planned meeting in 2013 in protest at an EU decision to differentiate between West Bank settlements and the rest of Israel in all agreements.
In subsequent years some EU states prevented the association council from meeting in protest at the war in Gaza or Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, and pushed for linkage between progress on peace talks and improving ties with Israel.
After the 27 EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels on Monday, voted unanimously to reconvene the body, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stressed that the EU’s position has not changed.
“We continue with the same council conclusion of 2016 supporting the two-state solution,” he said. “We know that the situation on the ground in the Palestinian territories is deteriorating, and I think – and the ministers agreed – that this association council would be a good occasion to engage with Israel about these issues. Ministers agreed that this was the highest level forum for our bilateral relationship.”
Israel’s interim prime minister Yair Lapid welcomed the EU decision as a diplomatic breakthrough. “The fact that the 27 foreign ministers of the European Union voted unanimously to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties with Israel is proof of Israel’s diplomatic strength and the government’s ability to create new opportunities with the international community.”
The EU and Israel still need to agree on a date for the meeting which will take place only after the EU states have determined a common position.
Mr Borrell said the meeting may take place before the Israeli election on November 1st, or before a new government is formed. “Who knows when the next Israeli government will be formed? Maybe it will be six months or a year,” he said.
Mr Lapid, who also serves as foreign minister, made repairing Israel’s strained ties with the EU one of his top priorities when assuming that portfolio a year ago, following years of tension between Brussels and the governments of former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He participated in a meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers last year and defined convening the association council as a prime objective for Israel-EU relations.
Mr Lapid hopes that improving ties with Europe will boost his image as a statesman on the international stage ahead of Israel’s election.