Israel and the European Union have pledged to continue working together despite a number of key policy disagreements after the resumption of their top-level bilateral diplomatic dialogue.
Yair Lapid, who made restoring friendly ties with Brussels one of his top priorities when he became prime minister in the summer, he addressed the first European Union-Israel Association Council meeting to be held in a decade by video link.
“This Council has not convened in over a decade — for the wrong reasons. The fact that we are convening it now corrects a historic mistake,” Mr Lapid said, adding that “it is an important milestone in our improving relations.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also emphasised the importance of dialogue.
“We thought that it is better to sit and discuss frankly than to avoid any contact. Certainly, we disagree. Certainly, we express concern. But I think it is more positive to sit and to discuss it.”
Following Monday’s session, the EU denounced Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, including plans to build in an area of the West Bank known as E1, between Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.
The EU foreign ministers specifically criticised “evictions and forced transfers”, as well as “demolitions of EU-financed projects and the confiscation of houses that threaten the viability of the two-state solution”.
Mr Lapid reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Over the past year, there has been a positive change in our work with the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “We are working with them and helping their economy develop.”
He added: “Israel wants peace that will lead to security, not peace that will destabilise the Middle East.” He said Palestinians need to put an end to “terrorism and incitement” and he vowed that Jerusalem will remain Israel’s “undivided capital”.
The council had met annually since its inception in 2000 but was suspended in 2013 when Binyamin Netanyahu was prime minister due to sharp disagreements over settlement construction.
The issue remains the most contentious between the parties. Last month alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett vetoed Israel’s prior decision to join the EU’s “Creative Europe” scheme even though it would have provided much-needed financial support for a host of Israeli cultural organisations. Mr Bennet objected to an EU clause that prohibits allocation of funds to artists in West Bank settlements, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Mr Lapid told the EU foreign ministers that he hopes the agreement can be signed soon along with other bilateral co-operation projects.
Mr Borrell also acknowledged disagreements on EU-mediated efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, with Israel opposing a resumption of the agreement.