The EU and Israel revitalize dialogue after a decade of friction with Netanyahu | International

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After a decade of friction during the Benjamin Netanyahu era, the European Union took a step this Monday to revitalize its relations with Israel, with the first meeting of the EU-Israel Council since 2012. The resumption, which has drawn criticism from organizations of human rights, however, has been marred by the absence of the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, who has participated by videoconference in the appointment with the high representative for Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell. In his intervention, Lapid has assured that the revitalization of the forum "corrects a historical error" and has justified his absence by the proximity of the elections in his country and the "complex security situation" in the area.

The EU and Israel maintain a fluid relationship and signed a gas supply agreement last June, but they maintain differences over the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Union's aid to the Palestinian Authority. Also because of Israel's rejection of the international agreement to prevent the nuclearization of Iran, which Brussels supports. Lapid has admitted this latest disagreement, although he has insisted that both sides do agree that "everything must be done to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state." Israel, with an unrecognized atomic arsenal, has suggested in recent months - when the signing of the pact with Tehran seemed close, before the outbreak of protests in the country - that it would not feel linked to it and reserved the right to bomb Iran if it tried to develop nuclear weapons.

The Israeli prime minister has mentioned that the EU and Israel share "liberal and democratic values", but has given a merely economic focus to the revitalization of the Council, assuring that "it will allow the promotion of economic ties between Israel and the EU and reinforce the fight against the cost of living, both in Israel and in Europe.” The EU is Israel's main trading partner and they have a free trade agreement. The forum, in fact, stopped meeting due to the refusal to accept the community demand to differentiate in the labeling which products come from the recognized territory of Israel and which from the Jewish settlements in occupied territory, which do not obtain the tariff benefits of the free trade agreement. trade. Both are labeled as "Made in Israel".

This annual forum brings together the foreign ministers, a portfolio that Lapid also holds. In its statement, the EU expresses its desire to resume other "essential" dialogue forums, more linked to politics and human rights; his "strong opposition" to the expansion of Jewish settlements and his commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state.

two-state solution

Eleven days ago, Lapid advocated a two-state solution to resolve the Middle East conflict in his speech at the UN General Assembly. "An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing to do to guarantee Israel's security, for Israel's economy and for the future of our children," he said, in a position more in tune with that of the EU and Brussels. This Monday he recalled this mention before adding: “But the Palestinians have to put an end to terrorism and incitement [a la violencia]”.

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The issue is contained in the document of "main points" that Israel has transferred to the EU and in which it asks the Union "to make it clear, through words and actions, that it will not tolerate Palestinian policies and actions that incite hatred and to terrorism, that seek to delegitimize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, or that undermine the prospect of genuine coexistence and mutual understanding and respect” between Israelis and Palestinians. It also “expects the EU to firmly reject the BDS movement [que promueve el boicot a Israel] and oppose any boycott or call for a boycott against the State of Israel” and, more specifically, to “reject the reprehensible attempt to refer to Israel or its policies as associated with the apartheid”.

Lapid's speech at the UN ended up boosting Monday's meeting, but it also opened a new front for him at home, where the right-wing opposition was on top of him. His leader, Netanyahu, called it a "total show of weakness", despite the fact that, when he was prime minister, he also spoke of the two states in the General Assembly in 2016, although he did not take steps in that direction. The reference to the creation of a Palestinian State has been interpreted in Israel in an electoral key. Polls point to a technical tie between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs in the November 1 election, the fifth in three and a half years.

Before the meeting with the Israeli team, in which that country's Intelligence Minister, Elazar Stern, participated in Brussels, Borrell acknowledged that the UN report on the situation in the occupied territories is "worrying", with a high number of Palestinians killed so far this year. “We want the negotiation for a two-state solution and in favor of peace to be resumed. that the prime minister [Lapid] has expressed itself so clearly in favor [de ello] it is very important, and we have to explore how we can put this into practice”, Borrell stressed this Monday.

This Monday's meeting of the EU-Israel Council, focused on bilateral issues, the implications of Russia's war against Ukraine, the energy and food crisis, according to the office of the head of European diplomacy, has also generated criticism from around fifty MEPs, who have demanded that the European Commission not "reward a government that continues with its policy of annexation and persecution, in open defiance of international law and hundreds of EU resolutions."

Last Monday, 37 Palestinian and 23 European civil society organizations sent a letter to Borrell and the Foreign Ministers of the Member States to try to prevent the resumption of the Association Council, considering that it "will further normalize authoritarian practices and oppressive, rather than the democratic values ​​and human rights that the EU promotes.”

Two days later, the human rights NGOs Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) elaborated on this idea at a press conference symbolically convened at the Ramallah headquarters of Al Haq, a of the six NGOs that Israel outlawed in 2021, on charges of ties to terrorism, and whose headquarters it raided last August. Nine EU countries, including Spain, then showed their "deep concern" about the raid and reiterated that Israel has not provided them with "substantial information" that justifies a change of position towards the banned NGOs.

For this reason, at the press conference in Ramallah, the three international NGOs criticized the fact that the EU resumes the dialogue forum with Israel precisely in this context. “If the situation is worse today than it was 10 years ago, why is the agreement being unfrozen? We haven't heard a single good reason,” lamented Alexis Deswaef, FIDH Vice President.

Nathalie Godard, director of campaigns for Amnesty International France, stressed that the EU should use the dialogue forum as a "lever to take up the issue of human rights", instead of "contributing to reinforcing the apartheid system", while Sari Bashi, director of programs for HRW, warned the community representatives that they will be "shaking hands with representatives of a government that is committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, and which seeks to silence Palestinian human rights defenders who speak out against these crimes.”

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