Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - Page 7 News List

EU moves to upgrade trade, diplomatic ties to Israel

The Guardian, TEL AVIV, Isreal

The EU will offer Israel upgraded trade and diplomatic relations in more than 60 areas at a high-level meeting in Brussels today, just weeks after European foreign ministers warned that Israeli policies in the West Bank “threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”

In advance of the annual EU-Israel Association Council meeting today, a diplomatic source shared details of the package of benefits that would be offered to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The EU will widen its relationship with Jerusalem on a range of areas, including migration, energy and agriculture. It will remove obstacles impeding Israel’s access to European government-controlled markets and enhance Israel’s cooperation with nine EU agencies, including Europol and the European Space Agency.

The wide-ranging boost to bilateral relations stops just short of the full upgrade that was frozen after Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip in January 2009.

One senior EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that despite private complaints of the inconsistency of chastising Israel with one hand, while rewarding it with the other, not one minister was prepared to oppose today’s agreement.

“I was struck by the fact that a whole range of relations was offered to Israel — at the request of Israel — as if nothing is happening on the ground,” the diplomat said. “Most ministers are too afraid to speak out in case they are singled out as being too critical towards Israel, because, in the end, relations with Israel are on the one hand relations with the Jewish community at large and on the other hand with Washington — nobody wants to have fuss with Washington. So [ministers] are fine with making political statements, but they refrain from taking concrete action.”

The Brussels-based bureaucrat said Europe’s 500 million consumers constitute almost 60 percent of Israel’s trade and are an under-utilized bargaining tool.

“The only possible tool for the EU to make Israel change its behavior is to use the weight and power of these relations,” he said. “We should be using [today’s] dialogue to get what we want, which is Israel’s compliance with its obligations under international law.”

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