EU offers ‘unprecedented’ aid to Israelis, Palestinians for peace deal

Foreign ministers promise closer cultural, scientific, business ties and enhanced security cooperation if an agreement is reached. But Jerusalem is unimpressed

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in June. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)
EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in June. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)

The European Union is ready to provide Israelis and Palestinians with “unprecedented” financial, political and security assistance and a significant upgrade in ties if the two parties reach a peace agreement, the union’s foreign ministers announced Monday.

The promised package, which includes upgrading bilateral relations to a so-called “Special Privileged Partnership,” can be understood as a major incentive to prod Israeli and Palestinian leaders into signing a final-status deal. Israeli officials reacted tepidly, if not cynically, to the plan, saying that as long as it does not include concrete proposals, neither side will rush to amend its positions to overcome the current stalemate in negotiations.

“These are empty words, meaningless generalities. The offer, the way it looks now, has no concrete content at all and seems somewhat unrealistic,” an Israeli diplomatic official told The Times of Israel. “If they really wanted to make their mark on the peace process they would have come up with something a bit more tangible.”

The offer was made by the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, which adopted the conclusions in Brussels.

“The EU will provide an unprecedented package of European political, economic and security support to both parties in the context of a final status agreement,” a statement from the council read. “In the event of a final peace agreement the European Union will offer Israel and the future state of Palestine a Special Privileged Partnership including increased access to the European markets, closer cultural and scientific links, facilitation of trade and investments as well as promotion of business to business relations.”

The EU would also offer both states “enhanced political dialogue and security cooperation,” the foreign ministers declared.

The council conclusions do not provide any details regarding the promised assistance, yet state that the EU is ready to “contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a peace agreement.” The EU “will work on concrete proposals, including by building on previous work undertaken on EU contributions to Palestinian state-building, regional issues, refugees, security and Jerusalem,” the foreign ministers stated.

According to Israel’s Haaretz daily, the incentives offered to Israel are “genuinely priceless.” Their monetary worth “has been estimated in the billions of euros,” the paper reported, and would “vastly improve Israel’s international standing, rescuing Jerusalem from the international isolation from which it is suffering.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said he had no comment to offer at this point.

The vague prospect of enhanced cultural and scientific links, or even increased access to European markets, is unlikely to prompt a significant change in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions regarding a possible peace treaty with the Palestinians, the unnamed diplomatic official said. Israel already has a free-trade agreement with the EU and while there is always room for expanding trade, the vague offers are unlikely to prompt a significant policy change, the official added.

“Had the Europeans offered a commissioner in Brussels, one for Israel and one of Palestine, or full integration of Israel and Palestine into the Eurozone, that would have caught the attention of their target audience. Had they said they would grant Israeli and Palestinian youths unlimited access to the Erasmus [student exchange] program, so that people could envision their children studying in Europe — that would be unprecedented and tangible. That would make it worth our while to make peace because there’s so much to gain. But enhanced cultural ties? So we will be allowed to send more than one orchestra to Europe per year?”

In their council resolutions, the European foreign ministers declared their full support for the currently ongoing peace talks, which were initiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and commended “the leadership shown by [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

However, the EU council warned “against actions that undermine the negotiations,” the council stated. “In this regard, it deplores Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements, which are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace.” The European foreign ministers also expressed their “grave concern regarding incitement, incidents of violence in the occupied territory, house demolitions and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

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