With Annexation Suspended, EU States Propose Reinstating Israel Association Council After Eight Years

Proposal to renew high-profile meetings, stopped due to political tensions over EU policy on settlements, was discussed during Israeli foreign minister's Germany visit, as Europeans hope to seize opportunity afforded by UAE deal

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R) and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi attend a news conference in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R) and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi attend a news conference in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/Pool
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Several European foreign ministers are seeking to reinstate the annual high-profile meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council, after Israel suspended its plans to annex parts of the West Bank as part of its agreement to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates announced two weeks ago.

The proposal to renew the meetings, which stopped in 2013 due to political tensions over European policy concerning Israeli settlements and pressure from pro-Palestinian groups, was presented this week during Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi's visit to Germany, where he participated in an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers.

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The union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell has backed the proposal, which Israel is looking into and is still pending formal approval by all member states.

The association agreements signed between Israel and the European Union in 1995 call for an annual meeting of Israeli and EU foreign ministers, which was last held in July 2012. Israel canceled its participation in the summit planned for 2013, citing recently approved EU guidelines stipulation agreements with Israel would not apply to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.

In December 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, but only at the informal invite of Lithuania and against protocol, spurring outrage by member states and the EU's foreign policy chief at the time, Federica Mogherini. In response to the Israeli-Lithuanian move, Mogherini invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a visit.

EU officials have lately been working behind the scenes to advance a meeting of the Association Council, as part of a carrot-and-stick policy to fend off Israel's annexation plans, a key promise in Netanyahu's last election campaign. If Israel backs off from its plans, EU officials have argued, the union and Israel could turn over a new leaf in their relationship.

Israel's agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which according to a joint statement includes "suspending" annexation, is seen by the EU as a constructive development, even though many member states are concerned with its potential ramifications for the Palestinians.

European officials also regard the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi, a co-leader of the Kahol Lavan alliance that almost managed to unseat Netanyahu, as foreign minister, as an opportunity to renew relations. Ahskenazi said that the purpose of his visit to Germany, his first in office, was to improve dialogue and relations with the European Union.

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