Israel and the EU end diplomatic crisis over the labeling issue, Mogherini invites Netanyahu to Brussels, EU-Israel Association Council to be convened
By Yossi Lempkowicz, Senior Media Advisor Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA)
Is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going to finally pay his first visit to the EU in Brussels ? This is a reasonable eventuality after Israel and the EU ended a 3-month diplomatic crisis over the EU’s decision in November to label products from beyond the Green Line.
In a phone conversation she had Friday with Netanyahu, aimed at mending fences between the two sides, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherinu invited the Israeli leader to the EU headquarters in Brussels.
The main element in the process that led Israel and the EU to overcome the crisis is the assurances Israel received from Mogherini that the labeling of Israeli settlement products, which was slammed as “discriminatory” by Jerusalem and is not expected to change, doesn’t constitute a political step to determine future borders or to boycott Israel.
In response to the EU move, Netanyahu had ordered the suspension of all contacts with the EU on the Palestinian issue.
“The EU High Representative and Vice-President Federica Mogherini pointed out that the (labeling) notice is without prejudice to any final status issues, including borders, which should be settled in direct negotations between the parties,” reads the EU statement issued on Friday after her conversation with Netanyahu.
The EU recognized what Israel has been demanding over the years, that the difference of views regarding the settlements ssue should not impact their bilateral relations and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
On the issue of EU-sponsored illegal Palestinian construction in area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control according to the Oslo accords, the two sides agreed “to continue the dialogue in this regard.”
The EU has held for many years that a final agreement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on a two-state solution, and that Israeli settlements are illegal and undermine peace efforts.
Netanyahu and Mogherini agreed that relations between Israel and the EU should be conducted in an atmosphere of “trust and mutual respect” in order to promote and help facilitate the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The EU statement adds : “HRVP Mogherini also underlined that the indication of origin does not constitute a boycott and should in no way be interpreted as such. She stressed the EU’s opposition to boycotts against Israel and its firm rejection of BDS attempts to isolate Israel.”
For the first time the anti-Israel Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement was clearly mentioned in a EU statement.
Discussing the common challenges Israel and the European Union face in the fight against terrorism, Mogherini “expressed solidarity with the people of Israel who have suffered from terrorist violence” in light of the terror attacks in recent weeks, restated the EU’s ‘’unequivocal condemnation of all terrorist acts and incitemnt to terrorism and violence” and reiterated the “commitment of the EU to the security of the State of Israel.”
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the conversation between Netanyahu and Mogherini “resolved the tensions”. “We are, Israel and the EU, back to good and close relations,” he noted.
According to Israeli press reports, bilateral talks aimed at healing the diplomatic rift were launched quietly after Netanyahu and Mogherini met at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.
The EU was said to be very unhappy that all contacts with Israel connected to the peace process were frozen. ” They understood that they had to give us something in words and deeds,” said an unnamed Israeli official.
The first immediate result of Netanyahu and Mogherini’s mutual commitment to revitalize the EU-Israel dialogue is the agreement to prepare and convene a meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council ‘’at the earliest possible opportunity.
This body has not been meeting for several years due to differences over the peace process.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu noted the high level of cooperation between Israel and the EU in the R&D sector, including within HORIZON 2020 program,” the foreign ministry spokesperson said.