EU Ratifies Major Aviation Pact With Israel

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An El Al Israel Airlines Boeing 737-900ER airplane takes off from the Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas airport as seen from Paracuellos del Jarama, outside Madrid, Spain, August 8, 2018.
An El Al Israel Airlines Boeing 737-900ER airplane takes off from the Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas airport, outside Madrid, August 8, 2018. Credit: REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo

The European Parliament ratified on Wednesday the Open Skies agreement with Israel by a vote of 437-102, with 147 members abstaining.

Israel's Foreign Ministry sees the vote as a diplomatic achievement considering growing European opposition to Israel's plan to annex West Bank lands.

European officials, however, said the vote does not reflect the European response as annexation has not yet taken place.

The Open Skies aviation pact, first signed in 2013 and now to become permanent, opens Israeli carriers to competition from European airlines by lifting restrictions on foreign companies, and has greatly increased the number of airlines operating in Israel.

Parliament members who opposed its continuation at first requested to delay the vote, but failed to garner a majority. Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the pact is "an important expression of Israel's relationship with Europe. Especially in these times, when Israel is facing an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, and ahead of the reopening of borders, this is monumental news that guarantees the rehabilitation of the tourism and air travel industries in Israel."

Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers by videoconference at the European Council building in Brussels, June 15, 2020.Credit: POOL/ REUTERS

Israel's Ambassador to the EU Ronny Lashno told Haaretz that the agreement "significantly lowered flight prices and increased the number of destinations. It's a reflection of the deep relationship and friendship between Israel and Europe. It's a great achievement for Israeli diplomacy."

Sources in the European Union, however, told Haaretz that the agreement had been previously voted for by the parliaments of many European countries and "Israel did not have to fight for its approval before a few months ago."

Also on Thursday, the High Representative of the EU Josep Borrell did not specifically name the Open Skies agreement but said annexation may hinder the "close relationship we currently enjoy with Israel."

"I will not prejudge the specific impact of a possible annexation, but let me underline that the European Union has its own obligations and responsibilities under international and European Union law," he said, adding that the Foreign Affairs Council is using "all its diplomatic capacity" to pressure Israel against unilateral annexation "before its too late."

"We strongly urge Israel to refrain from any unilateral decision that would lead to the annexation of any occupied Palestinian territory. I had the opportunity of expressing this point of view in my phone calls with the new Ministers of Foreign Affairs  [Ashkenazi] and Defense [Benny Gantz] of Israel," said Borell, noting that there is no European consensus regarding annexation but a "very strong majority of countries […] continue supporting a two-state solution, based on international parameters and considering that any annexation would be against international law."

As part of the Foreign Ministry's attempts to prevent the delay of the vote on the Open Skies agreement, Labor party Minister Amir Peretz was recruited to address a letter to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats party (S&D). Peretz called on party members to support the agreement with Israel, as it will strengthen the Labor party's efforts " within the Israeli government to promote peace and reconciliation between Israel and its Palestinian and Arab neighbors”.

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