Palestinians Must End Terror for Two-state Solution, Lapid Tells First Israel-EU Council Meeting in Ten Years

The EU-Israel Association Council last met in 2012, against the backdrop of political tensions over Israel's settlement policy ■ Lapid reaffirms commitment to two-state solution

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks at the Israel-EU Association Council meeting on Monday, the first in ten years.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks at the Israel-EU Association Council meeting on Monday, the first in ten years.Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The EU-Israel Association Council, a high-profile meeting between European foreign ministers and their Israeli counterparts, reconvened for the first time in a decade on Monday following a halt in 2012 due to Israeli anger over European policy concerning Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Addressing the Association Council remotely, Prime Minister Yair Lapid hailed the renewal of talks. "The first goal I set with High Representative Borrell, Commissioner Várhelyi, and with all the foreign ministers, was reconvening the Association Council," he said. "This is the forum that will allow us to advance economic ties between Israel and the EU, and strengthen our fight to lower the cost of living, in both Israel and Europe."

He added, "This Council has not convened in over a decade – for the wrong reasons. The fact that we are convening it now corrects an historic mistake."

In his speech, Lapid noted that he "expressed once more my commitment to the two-state solution" in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, "But the Palestinians need to put an end to terrorism and incitement. Israel wants peace that will lead to security, not peace that will destabilize the Middle East," he said.

Lapid also referred to Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's use of his veto power to overturn Israel's prior decision to join the EU's "Creative Europe" funding scheme. The scheme, designed to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for culture and media initiatives chosen from among the signatory states, includes a clause that prohibits allocation of funds to artists in West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

"I hope we will conclude the signing of Creative Europe soon," he said, referencing it among other EU programs he hopes Israel will take part in.

The prime minister also noted that Israel has some disagreements with the European states attending, although they have common goals. "Even though we disagree on the JCPOA," he said, referring to the Iran nuclear deal, "we all agree that everything must be done to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. We are all united in our desire for the war in Ukraine to end, and in our desire for the restoration of its territorial integrity.

"We all understand that we must stand up and defend freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of the press around the world," he said. "And we are all committed to fighting discrimination. Antisemitism is on the rise again in Europe. We welcome the EU strategy to combat it and now have to put that plan into action."

In July, the foreign ministers of the European Union's member states agreed to renew the Association Council. According to an EU statement, the ministers "agreed to reconvene the meetings and start work to determine the EU position. The EU position on the Middle East Process has not changed since the 2016 Council conclusions supporting the two-state solution."

Despite the resumption of meetings, the European Union denounced Israel's conduct in the territories. In a paper published following the meeting on Monday, expected cooperation with Israel was emphasized, as was a clear condemnation of Hamas – though there was also sharp criticism of Israel's policy in East Jerusalem and E1, a highly contested area between Jerusalem and the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement.

The ministers specifically criticized "evictions, forced transfers," as well as "demolitions of projects financed by the European Union, and the confiscation of houses that will threaten the viability of the two-state solution."

The Union's High Representative Josep Borrell emphasized his support for dialogue despite disagreements. "We thought that it is better to sit and discuss frankly than to avoid any contact. Certainly, we disagree. Certainly, we express concern. But I think it is more positive to sit and to discuss about it."

As part of the forum's renewal, European foreign ministers are to hold an annual meeting with their Israeli counterpart to promote partnership between Israel and the EU on matters such as trade and foreign policy. The Association Agreements, signed by Israel and the European Union back in 1995, are framework agreements regarding relations between the parties. These included a high-level annual convention of the EU’s and Israel’s foreign ministers.

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