EU Commission Josep Borrell is strongly in favor of restarting the Association Council with Israel.
FILE PHOTO: European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell, holds a virtual news conference on the approval of Operation Irini, at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium March 31, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR/FILE PHOTO)
The EU and Israel are in talks to reinstate the body strengthening their bilateral ties, after the government suspended plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The readout from Brussels on a pre-Rosh Hashanah call between EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Friday states simply that “both agreed on a shared, mutual interest in intensifying bilateral cooperation,” but a Foreign Ministry source confirmed that they discussed the reestablishment of the EU-Israel Association Council.
EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi tweeted about “the need to seize this positive momentum for EU-Israel bilateral relations, including organizing Association Council soon,” after the call.
The matter was also a topic of discussion during Ashkenazi’s visit to Berlin last month, where he attended a meeting of his counterparts in the EU.
The Association Agreement signed between Israel and the EU in 1995 is the legal basis defining relations between the sides. It establishes an Association Council, which is meant to ensure a dialogue and improve relations between the parties.
The Association Council has not met since 2013, as a form of protest by the EU, starting after Operation Protective Edge in 2014, against Israeli settlements and policies towards the Palestinians.
Borrell is strongly in favor of restarting the Association Council with Israel, an EU source said, and is trying to convince member states of its merit.
The case for calling the council again soon is “quite strong,” the source said.
However, a number of Western European states, including France, are not yet convinced and view calling the council as rewarding Israel for not doing something – annexing parts of the West Bank – the EU strongly opposed.
The Association Council would probably have to happen in tandem with other issues, such as a political dialogue including human rights issues vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
In the past, large numbers of member states have called for greater progress on the Middle East Peace Process before moving towards closer ties with Israel. Some also sought for there to be parallel incentives for the Palestinians and Israel, such as promising the Palestinians a quick start to negotiate an EU-Palestine association agreement to be implemented upon statehood.
These arguments came up in 2017, when then-high representative Federica Mogherini sought to reconvene the Association Council, but France, Sweden, Ireland, the UK, Luxembourg and others thought Israel did not meet their standards.
In April, when asked about the Association Council in the European Parliament, Borrell said the EU is “committed to a regular dialogue as foreseen in the EU-Israel Association Agreement,” and that subcommittee meetings are held regularly.
“The EU is keen to schedule a meeting of the Association Council as soon as a date can be mutually agreed,” Borrell said at the time.