Intel minister to lead Israeli delegation to EU in Lapid’s stead

Yesh Atid’s Elazar Stern to travel to Brussels for Monday meeting of EU-Israel Association Council, which is being held for first time in a decade

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Knesset Member Elazar Stern. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Member Elazar Stern. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern will lead Israel’s delegation to Brussels on Monday for the first meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council in a decade.

According to a Foreign Ministry statement Sunday, the meeting “will review Israel-EU relations, and discuss cooperation and the further development of relations.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid — who is also foreign minister — will not travel to the Belgium capital, though the Foreign Ministry said he will “lead the meeting.” The exact nature of the premier’s participation in the forum remained unclear.

Stern, a former IDF general, is a member of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

The European side will be headed by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

The Association Council, a meeting to cover matters of mutual concern, is meant to occur annually between Israel and the EU. However, the last time the two sides met was in 2012. Lapid made it a goal to reconvene the forum since becoming foreign minister last June.

The EU stressed last week 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.”

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

In his UN speech last month, Lapid endorsed a two-state solution, 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 — which Lapid focused on extensively in his address to the General Assembly — at all in its statement on the upcoming meeting, while Israel’s statements did not bring up the Palestinians.

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

The US-brokered talks between Israel and Lebanon on the maritime border between the countries – which has implications for Europe’s natural gas supplies and regional stability – is expected to come up as well.

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

“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 Jerusalem 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.”

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell gives a statement after Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue at the EU headquarters EEAS building in Brussels on August 18, 2022. (John Thys/AFP)

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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