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Netanyahu to make rare appearance at summit of EU foreign ministers

After long period of frosty relations, first time in 22 years that Israeli prime minister will attend meeting in Brussels

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on November 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on November 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to attend a summit of European Union leaders for the first time in December, marking renewed efforts to reset frayed relations between Jerusalem and the bloc.

Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, will travel to Brussels on December 11 to take part in a summit of the foreign ministers of all 28 member countries of the EU, after receiving an invitation from the Lithuanian foreign minister.

This will be the first time in 22 years that an Israeli leader has attended any European Union meeting.

Netanyahu announced he would visit Brussels during a faction meeting Monday. His spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It will also be the first time that Netanyahu has met with all the foreign ministers of the bloc.

The prime minister’s visit to Brussels will follow his Paris meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on December 10.

Netanyahu spoke with Macron on Sunday for half an hour, and discussed “the nuclear deal with Iran, Iran’s efforts to establish itself and Syria, and its [other] actions in the region,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Netanyahu’s relationship with the European Union has been frosty for many years, though a year ago officials vowed to improve ties.

In July, on a visit to Hungary, Netanyahu criticized the European Union in unusually harsh terms for its treatment of Israel, urging the leaders of four Central European countries to use their influence in the organization to ease its conditions for advancing bilateral ties.

“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he said in a closed-door meeting whose content was accidentally broadcast to journalists outside the room. “I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth — both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy towards Israel.”

Last week Israel forced a group of European lawmakers to cancel their trip to Israel, explaining that the 20 participants, including French parliamentarians and mayors, and members of the European Parliament, were planning to undermine Israel’s security.

The group was scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas on November 19-23 and had announced that its primary purpose was to visit and offer support to Marwan Barghouti and other Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.

EU-Israel relations took a big hit in November 2015, when the union instructed its member states that Israeli goods made outside the pre-1967 lines could not be marked as product of Israel. Israeli officials fumed and, amid accusations of anti-Semitism, vowed to curtail ties with the bloc.

“We have to reset our relationship with the EU,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said almost two years ago. “There is a natural tendency in the EU establishment to single out Israel and treat it in ways that other countries are not being dealt with, and especially other democracies,” he said. “And I think it’s wrong. I think it should be corrected.”

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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