The end of the Netanyahu era has opened up the possibility for the EU and Israel to deepen their relationship and both sides have been quick to seize the opportunity. The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, extended an invitation when the new Israeli government took office and the Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, immediately accepted the proposal to visit Brussels. Borrell and Lapid met this Sunday and the Israeli attended a working lunch with the EU Foreign Ministers on Monday. The new stage coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Madrid Peace Conference that launched the process for the Oslo accords, and Borrell does not hide his intention to put back on the agenda a conflict in whose resolution Europe wants to regain prominence.
"I think it is a good opportunity to restart our relations, which in the past had deteriorated a lot," said the High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, before presiding over the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers. Borrell's previous meeting with Lapid was "a broad and honest exchange on bilateral relations between the EU and Israel," according to the Commission.
At the post-Council press conference, Borrell hailed Lapid's presence in the EU Council as "a clear sign that there is an opportunity to restart relations with Israel."
The High Representative has highlighted the fact that with Lapid "we now have an Israeli Foreign Minister who advocates the two-state solution [to resolve the conflict with Palestine], which is the solution advocated by us."
Diplomatic sources have pointed out after the working lunch that the room had reigned "the feeling that a new stage is beginning."
Lapid, according to these sources, has been closer to the European position "although he has highlighted the problem of violence and the preponderance of Hamas."
According to diplomatic sources, this Monday's appointment aims to mark a turning point after almost a decade of disagreements with the administration of Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader who has been in charge of a government for the longest time in Israel's history.
But the same sources acknowledge that mistrust and doubts still reign about the will of the new Israeli coalition to seek consensual solutions on the many conflicts in the Middle East, starting with that of Palestine and the relationship with Iran.
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The secular centrist Yair Lapid, at the head of the opposition, has helped to form a coalition that is as heterogeneous as it is fragile, leading Naftali Bennet for two years. If the agreements hold, Lapid will take over from the presidency of the Government in 2023. Brussels believes that this executive, together with the presence of Joe Biden in the White House, provides the opportunity to strengthen political and diplomatic relations with Israel.
Some countries, led by Germany, even advocate restoring the activity of the Association Council between the EU and Israel, paralyzed since its last meeting in 2012. But diplomatic sources acknowledge that there is still no consensus among the 27 EU partners to give that step. "The Israeli government coalition is very heterogeneous and we do not know its position on the peace process," a European diplomatic source justifies mistrust. Brussels also does not have guarantees of the duration of an executive formed by the agreement of eight political parties that cover the entire parliamentary arc and that includes a formation of the Arab minority.
Another European diplomatic source points out that "Lapid responded very quickly to the invitation to come to Brussels, which shows the will of the new administration to seek compromises with the EU." Even so, most European capitals want to see the evolution of the positions of the new Israeli government before considering the shocks of the Netanyahu era, which led to the suspension of the association council meetings between the EU and Israel in 2013. "It is not yet closed if there will be a meeting of the Association Council," acknowledged a diplomatic source after lunch with the Israeli minister. "There are chances that it will take place but it is not yet agreed," added that source, indicating that all the wounds of the Netanyahu era are not entirely forgotten.
Both parties have clashed over the international agreement to prevent the nuclearization of Iran (rejected by Israel), over Brussels' criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and over the continued EU aid to the Palestinian Authority (which by reason € 1 billion a year has made the community club the world's largest donor). Relations deteriorated even more during the mandate of Donald Trump in the US (2017-2021), which recognized Jerusalem as the capital (decision rejected by the EU) and opted for an alliance between Israel and some Arab countries (especially the Persian Gulf) to isolate and combat Iran.
The EU welcomed the Trump-sponsored agreements (which led to Israel's restoration of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) but insisted that their objective was a peace process for the entire Middle East region, including the so-called solution. of the two states to end the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The EU insists that it will only recognize the borders set by Israel in 1967, which include Jerusalem, when an agreement acceptable to both parties is reached.