First meeting of EU-Israel Association Council since 2012 set for next week

Prime Minister Yair Lapid unlikely to attend October 3 meeting in person; European statement focuses largely on Palestinians, doesn’t mention Iran

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell announces the resumption of the Association Council with Israel, July 18, 2022. (screenshot)
European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell announces the resumption of the Association Council with Israel, July 18, 2022. (screenshot)

The European Union confirmed on Thursday that the first meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council in a decade will take place in Brussels next week.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will head up the European side during the gathering scheduled for Monday. But it remains unclear whether Prime Minister Yair Lapid will attend in person.

While the EU statement noted that the Israeli delegation “will be led” by Lapid, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel that no definitive plans have been made, and that chances are he will not travel to Brussels.

Yom Kippur begins on Tuesday night.

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. Lapid — during his recent stint as foreign minister — made it a goal to reconvene the forum.

According to the EU, the meeting will cover the war in Ukraine, the global energy crisis, and food insecurity, among other topics.

Then-foreign minister Yair Lapid meets with 26 EU foreign ministers in Brussels, July 12, 2021. (European Union)

The EU statement stressed that the “Middle East Peace Process” would be discussed, saying that the body “hopes to build on the momentum generated at the UN General Assembly.”

Lapid endorsed a two-state solution during his UN address last week, calling it “the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children.”

The EU did not mention Iran at all in its statement on the upcoming meeting.

The position of the European Union “has not changed with respect to the Middle East peace process,” Borrell said at a press conference in July in which he announced that the EU had decided to resume the meetings with Israel.

“We know that the 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.

Lapid called the July vote by the EU foreign ministers “evidence of Israel’s diplomatic power and the government’s ability to create new opportunities with the international community.”

Palestinians visit the site where veteran Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed, in the West Bank city of Jenin, May 18, 2022. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

A senior European official told The Times of Israel in July that Borrell had held off on reconvening the key forum in the wake of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and the announcement of new housing over the Green Line in May.

“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.

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.”

French Ambassador to Israel Eric Danon in 2019. (Courtesy Foreign Ministry)

For a number of years, individual EU states prevented the meetings from taking place.

During Lapid’s meeting with his European Union counterparts in July 2021, 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.

This summer, a multi-party group of 158 members of the European Parliament signed a letter calling on the EU leadership to resume the Association Council.

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