The European Union Foreign Affairs Council has decided to resume the Association Council meetings with Israel, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced on Monday.
The Association Council is a meeting that is meant to occur annually between Israel and the EU to cover matters of mutual concern. The last time the two sides met was in 2012, and Prime Minister Yair Lapid, during his recent stint as foreign minister, made it a goal to reconvene the forum.
The position of the European Union “has not changed with respect to the Middle East peace process,” Borrell said at a press conference after the 27 EU foreign ministers met in Brussels. “We continue with the same council conclusion of 2016 supporting the two-state solution.
“We know that situation on the ground in the Palestinian territories is deteriorating, and I think that the ministers agreed that this Association Council would be a good occasion to engage with Israel about these issues,” he continued.
In a statement late Monday night, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that the vote by the EU foreign ministers “is evidence of Israel’s diplomatic power and the government’s ability to create new opportunities with the international community.”
The date of the meeting will be mutually agreed upon by the EU and Israel.
A senior European official told The Times of Israel last week that Borrell was holding off on reconvening the key forum because of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.
Borrell had been reluctant to advance an Association Council with Israel, but came around because of pressure from EU member states, the official said.
That was until Abu Akleh, 51, was shot dead while covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin on May 11 alongside a team of other journalists. During the raid, a firefight broke out between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen and at some point, under disputed circumstances, Abu Akleh was shot in the head.
The next day, the Defense Ministry approved plans for 4,427 new settlement homes.
“There were two things that were unacceptable in terms of diplomacy — the killing of the journalist, and the announcement of 4,000 new settlements,” said the official.
“Borrell told us, ‘Can you imagine I am going to put on the agenda a meeting of cooperation with the images on TV…. Come on,'” the European official said.
Borrell indicated to the ministers that he would advance the text during the six-month Czech presidency of the Council of Europe, which began on July 1.
Borrell’s spokesperson’s office did not provide a response when asked about the matter. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Israel signed an Association Agreement that defined its relationship with the EU in 1995 and ratified it in 2000. Israel canceled the Council in 2013, when the EU angered Israel by issuing new regulations according to which no Israeli body that operates or has links beyond the Green Line can receive EU funding or have any cooperation with the EU.
During its presidency of the EU Council, the French tried to advance the meeting with Israel. “We are looking forward to deepening the EU-Israel relations through the convening of the Association Council,” France’s envoy to Israel Eric Danon said in May. “We are currently working toward this perspective, mindful of the political and technical conditions pertaining to the EU rules and framework.”
For a number of years, individual EU states prevented the meetings from taking place.
During Lapid’s meeting with his European Union counterparts last July, most countries supported the idea of scheduling an Association Council meeting and strengthening the bilateral relationship in general, sources inside the room told The Times of Israel.
In July 2011, a multi-party group of 158 members of the European Parliament signed a letter calling on the EU leadership to resume the Association Council.
“We are very pleased to see the European Union take action after more than a quarter of all MPs signed the letter calling for the resumption of the Association Council,” said Shai Bazak, CEO of ELNET-Israel. “This will benefit both Israel and the EU, and will boost the already prosperous ties between Israel and the EU.”