EU willing to renew closer ties with Israel after decade of stagnation

EU willing to renew closer ties with Israel after decade of stagnation

Joint talks between the EU and Israel could resume for the first time in a decade before November, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell confirmed on Monday (18 July).

EU foreign ministers have given the political green light to the resumption of meetings in the framework of the EU-Israel Association Council, but no date has yet been proposed.

Israel signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 1995, but canceled annual talks under it in 2013 in protest at the EU’s decision to distinguish between settlements and the rest of Israel in all Agreements.

For several years, some EU member states have also blocked the meetings, calling for more progress on peace with the Palestinians before moving towards closer EU-Israel ties.

According to Borrell, member states of the European Union agreed on Monday that they saw no reason to wait for the November 1 election and the new Israeli government to engage in joint talks.

“Who knows when the next Israeli government will be formed? Maybe it will be in six months or in a year”said Mr. Borrell.

According to the EU, the first meeting should focus on the situation of the Middle East peace process, which would require member states to work out a common position beforehand, he added.

However, according to European diplomats, Member States are divided on the importance to be given to this issue.

“The position of the EU has not changed with regard to the peace process in the Middle East”Borrell told reporters, referring to a stance the bloc took in 2016 in favor of a two-state solution.

“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 opportunity to engage with Israel on these issues”he added.

In search of energy

A number of high-level EU visits to the country this year have given further impetus to restarting ties.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the country in June, the first such visit in ten years for an EU chief executive.

Energy has been the main topic of discussions with Tel Aviv, which has gone from being a natural gas importer to an exporter in recent years, thanks to major discoveries at sea.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said after the meeting that Israel’s ties with the EU were a “strategic asset”while Mrs von der Leyen reaffirmed “the EU’s need for Israeli gas”according to information provided to AFP by a spokesperson for the country’s energy minister, Karine Elharrar.

Karine Elharrar and other Israeli officials have said their country could help meet EU demand if it could supply gas from its offshore reserves estimated at nearly 1 trillion cubic meters.

Outstanding questions

However, despite this new diplomatic impetus, relations between the European Union and Tel Aviv remain tense.

The announcement of a possible resumption of talks comes just a month after Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid criticized Borrell for his visit to Tehran aimed at reviving talks on the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel has long opposed and tries to obstruct.

The move also comes as nine EU member states said they would continue to work with the six Palestinian civil society groups that Israel designated as terrorist associations last year, citing a lack of evidence. in support of this assertion.

Tel Aviv said last year that the six accused groups had close ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis and is on US and European terror blacklists .

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