Historic EU-Israel Meet Highlights Differences

By Yisrael Price

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell arrives at a EU-Israel Association Council in Brussels, Monday. (Reuters/Yves Herman)

YERUSHALAYIM — While initial reports stressed the historic note that the European Union and Israel on Monday held high-level talks for the first time in a decade, the discussion itself and statements released afterward made clear that the two sides are still far apart on the issue that has separated them—a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Even though Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid endorsed a two-state solution, it was not sufficient to mollify the Europeans.

In his remarks, Lapid emphasized Israeli support for the Palestinian Authority, saying that “we are working with them and helping their economy develop,” he said, before adding that “the Palestinians need to put an end to terrorism and incitement.”

“Israel wants peace that will lead to security, not peace that will destabilize the Middle East,” he said.

While Lapid stressed the verities of shared democratic values and a determination to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Borrell bore down on the concrete, local issues on which there was little sharing.

“We will discuss frankly and openly about some specific issues which are of our mutual concern. I am talking about the situation in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East peace process which is stalled,” Borrell said.

In a 16-page statement released after the meeting, the E.U. expressed concern over journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, the killing of a number of Palestinians in recent IDF counter-terror raids in Yehuda and Shomron, conditions in Gaza, the religious status quo in Yerushalayim, among other related issues.

On the other hand, it had positive things to say about cooperation with Israel on COVID-19, energy, Mediterranean security, cyber, trade and more.

But out of 54 paragraphs in the document, 21 are criticism Israel’s handling of the Palestinian issue, according to The Times of Israel.

The statement does condemn “indiscriminate launching of rockets by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups,” while affirming Israel’s right to self-defense and calling for the release of Israelis held in Gaza.

Israel’s draft statement on the meeting, which it circulated to the E.U. side, was also not designed to elicit a totally warm reception, as it emphasized Israel’s status as a Jewish democratic state with Yerushalayim as its indivisible and eternal capital, according to Lapid’s office.

Lapid invited the E.U. to become part of the Negev Forum, the regional cooperation framework launched this summer.

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