EU strengthens Israel ties despite Palestine objections
17.06.08 @ 09:06
The European Union is to boost its ties with Israel, despite objections from the Palestinian Authority and other Arab governments over continued illegal settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
"Today we mark a new phase in the relations between Israel and the EU," said Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni speaking to reporters alongside Dimitrij Rupel, his Slovenian counterpart, whose country currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.
Mr Rupel said the EU and Israel were "elevating our relations to a new level of more intense, more fruitful, more influential cooperation," according to AFP.
EU foreign ministers made the decision at their annual bilateral meeting with the Jewish state, the EU-Israel Association Council, which took place on Monday (16 June) in Luxembourg.
As a result, Israel has won three key advances: increased diplomatic co-operation with the 27-state bloc, participation in European agencies and the establishment of a working group to investigate the country's integration into the European single market.
The advance in relations comes without reference to complaints from the Palestinian Authority that no such moves should be made so long as Israel continues allow the construction of settlements in the occupied territories, an activity which is a violation of international law.
Last week, Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad lobbied EU capitals to not expand relations with Israel unless settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem were halted. Other Arab governments made similar appeals, in particular Egypt.
In a letter to the 27 member states, the prime minister wrote that no new ties should be established "until after Israel implements all of its commitments, especially those related to halting all settlement activities and other violations of human rights in Palestine."
Additionally, some EU national diplomats have been worried that such an agreement endangers the success of the first meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean – the proposed grouping that is intended to strengthen relations with all of Europe's southern neighbours.
Israel has been invited to the meeting – to take place next month in Paris – alongside North African nations, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Syria.
Specifically, the agreement establishes a joint working group that will explore the ways in which Israel can integrate into the European single market, with a view to further improvements in relations at a later date.
In the field of diplomatic co-operation, the sides will now see an institutionalisation of dialogue, with regular annual high-level meetings.
Israel will also be permitted to join European agencies and programmes.