EU invites FM Katz for ‘ad hoc’ meeting to discuss Gaza, hostages

Official says 27-member bloc is ‘committed to cooperation with Israel’; foreign minister has yet to respond to call for first Association Council since 2022

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a debate in Strasbourg, eastern France, April 24, 2024. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a debate in Strasbourg, eastern France, April 24, 2024. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has invited Foreign Minister Israel Katz to an “ad hoc” EU-Israel Association Council meeting, which would be the first such gathering since October 2022.

Katz has not yet decided whether to agree to the meeting, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel. It can only take place with Israel’s consent and with all parties agreeing on the agenda.

The decision to invite Katz was made at the monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers on May 27.

“The current situation calls for urgent measures to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population in Gaza, ensure the release of all hostages, and increase the flow of humanitarian aid,” an EU official told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “The EU is committed to cooperation with Israel in that regard.”

After the May meeting, Borrell said that the council would deal with the International Court of Justice ruling ordering Israel to halt military operations in the southern Gazan city of Rafah that would risk the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there.

“We got the necessary unanimity to call for an Association Council with Israel to discuss the situation in Gaza… and to discuss the respect of human rights under the obligations that Israel has assumed under the Association Council and how they plan to implement the ruling of the court,” said Borrell.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“But what we have seen since the court has issued its ruling,” he continued, “not the stop of military activities but on the contrary an increase in the military activities, an increase in the bombing and an increase in the casualties to the civilian people.”

The EU-Israel Association Council is a meeting that is meant to occur annually between Israel and the EU to cover matters of mutual concern. Talks between both sides took place in October 2022 within the council framework after a decade-long pause triggered by EU opposition to West Bank settlement expansion.

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout photo published June 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Prior to the 2022 meeting, the last time the two sides met was in 2012.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said that he and his European Union counterparts had a “significant” discussion at the May 27 meeting about the possibility of levying sanctions on Israel if it fails to comply with international humanitarian law.

“For the first time at an EU meeting, in a real way, I’ve seen significant discussion on sanctions and ‘what if,’” Martin said. He qualified that there is “some distance between people articulating the need for a sanctions-based approach if Israel does not comply with the ICJ’s ruling… to agreement in the Council meeting, given all of the different perspectives there.”

Hebrew language media outlets have described the invitation to Katz as an attempt to bring him to Brussels to harangue him about the war.

However, The Times of Israel has learned that European countries more sympathetic to Israel pushed for the meeting in an attempt to head off potential sanctions.

The EU bloc of 27 countries is the main aid donor for the Palestinian territories and Israel’s biggest trading partner.

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