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29th Mar 2020

EU sketches out conditions for upgrade with Israel

  • Man surveys war damage in Gaza after Israel's Operation Cast Lead in December and January (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)

The EU will at a meeting with Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman next month sketch out three conditions for upgrading relations, according to a draft declaration seen by EUobserver.

The text says that the meeting in Brussels on 15 June "confirms the great importance the European Union is attaching to its relations with Israel and its readiness to continue strengthening our bilateral relationship."

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But it does not give any timetable for implementing a formal upgrade in bilateral ties, envisaged before Israel launched "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza in December.

The omission effectively continues a freeze imposed on the project by Israeli-critical EU countries, such as Belgium, Sweden and Portugal, which feel that the upgrade would give an untimely endorsement to Israel's hawkish new government.

Instead, the declaration spells out three main obstacles standing in the way of closer relations: Israel's refusal to sign up to a two-state solution, the continuing expansion of Jewish settlements and the Gaza blockade.

"The EU clearly stated that the upgrading of relations with Israel should serve the purpose of pursuing the common objectives and interests of both parties," it says. "Our common interests and objectives include the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through implementation of the solution based on two states."

"The [EU] is deeply concerned by the recent increase in settlement activities, house demolitions and evictions in the Palestinian territories, especially in East Jerusalem," it adds.

"Reconstruction and economic recovery of the Gaza Strip require permanent opening of the border crossings for the delivery of humanitarian aid."

Between 500 and 700 truck-loads of aid need to get into Gaza every day to help maintain basic living conditions, but Israel lets in just 100 or so, an EU diplomat explained.

The seven-page EU declaration was drafted by the Czech EU presidency on 20 May and could be changed at any moment in the run-up to the 15 June meeting.

Israel's ambassador to the EU, Ran Curiel, downplayed the importance of any prickly public EU statement, saying the main value of the event will lie in Mr Lieberman's personal introduction to EU officials.

"He will probably say Israel has offered and is offering to upgrade relations with the EU," Mr Curiel told this website. "He will say what he has to say about settlements and Israel's position on other issues inside the room."

The ambassador noted that EU-Israel relations remain vibrant, especially at bilateral level, despite the lack of progress on the upgrade.

The current governments of Germany, France, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania are on the Israeli-friendly side. Belgium, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Greece and Cyprus are more critical, however.

The draft EU declaration also urges "a complete and unconditional stop of attacks against Israeli territory by Palestinian militia."

It takes a firm line on Iran, condemning "threats toward Israel by the Iranian government" and "any denial of the Holocaust as a historical fact."

The text supports the Israeli narrative that militant movements such as Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza are proxies for foreign powers. "Iran should stop its support to violent groups in the region and use its influence in order to encourage them to follow a non-violent approach."

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