ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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In phone call, EU’s Borrell invites new Israeli FM Cohen to visit Brussels

Diplomats hail recent unfreezing of bilateral council after 10-year pause; EU foreign policy chief hopes to meet Cohen soon, expresses ‘strong concerns’ over West Bank violence

Composite image: On left, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for the EU-ASEAN summit in Brussel, December 14, 2022; On right, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen  at a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys; Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Composite image: On left, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for the EU-ASEAN summit in Brussel, December 14, 2022; On right, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys; Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke with EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell on Thursday, with Borrell expressing his desire for EU-Israel talks to continue after a frozen joint council resumed last year, and inviting Cohen to visit Brussels.

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.

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

In their phone call, Cohen and Borrell agreed to meet “at the earliest possible opportunity… possibly at the Munich Security Conference in February,” Borrell’s spokesperson said.

“In light of current developments, [Borrell] also recalled known EU positions on the need to avoid unilateral actions and expressed strong concerns about the high number of victims,” the spokesperson added, referring to the uptick in Palestinian fatalities as Israeli forces increase operational activities in the West Bank.

According to the Israeli readout, Cohen expressed his hope that EU-Israel ties will continue to grow.

Former prime minister Yair Lapid takes part in a meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council via video from Jerusalem, on October 3, 2022. (EU)

The call comes amid an expectation that while Jerusalem’s relationship with Europe will blossom in trade, research and energy, the two will likely clash over diplomatic issues like the Temple Mount, East Jerusalem and settlement construction in the West Bank.

Also on Thursday, the first phone call between Cohen and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was postponed. The call was the subject of much speculation after Cohen spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier this month.

Cohen had angered the Ukrainians by announcing he would speak to Lavrov, and that Jerusalem would speak less about the invasion. It was unclear whether Kuleba would be willing to speak with Cohen at all, but on Monday, Israel was informed of his readiness to talk.

Ukrainian sources told The Times of Israel that Thursday’s delay was a result of the ongoing war, and in no way an expression of Kyiv’s displeasure at Israel.

Continuing his diplomatic phone blitz, Cohen also spoke to Croatian FM Gordan Grlić-Radman on Thursday and thanked Zagreb for voting against the UN General Assembly resolution to refer the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The recently installed Israeli foreign minister congratulated his counterpart on Croatia becoming the 27th nation to join the Schengen Area, the biggest visa-free area in the world. It also became the 20th country to join the eurozone on January 1.

On Wednesday, Cohen also spoke with Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides and Guatemala’s top diplomat Mario Bucaro.

Bucaro was Guatemala’s ambassador to Israel in 2018-2020, weeks after the Central American country opened its embassy in Jerusalem.

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