Ahead of Yair Lapid’s visit to the EU: ‘The mood on our side is very positive,’ says senior EU official
"The mood on our side is very positive and we are talking about a fresh start with the new Israeli government and different orientations from the previous one," said a senior EU official ahead of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s visit to Brussels, where he is due to meet today (12 July) the 27 EU foreign ministers, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.
Lapid, who became Foreign Minister in the new coalition Israeli government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, was invited to meet his EU counterparts by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
This will the first time an Israeli Foreign Minister addresses the EU Foreign Ministers in more than 12 years. The last one to do so was Avigdor Lieberman in 2011.
Relations were often tense between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the EU over the settlement policy. Because of disagreements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the EU-Israel Association Council, the highest level bilateral body, which is due to meet annually had not convened since 2012. Netanyahu,did join an informal gathering of the Foreeign Affairs Council for breakfast in 2017 and former Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi attended a similar meeting in Berlin in 2020.
Yair Lapid, who is also alternate prime minister, has vowed to ”change, improve and deepen the dialogue” between Israel and Europe after years of political tension.
Speaking at a hand-over ceremony in the foreign ministry when he was appointed in June, Lapid stressed that ‘’with the countries of the European Union our situation is not good enough. Our relationship with too many governments with too many governments has been neglected and become hostile. Shouting that everyone is antisemitic isn’t a policy or a work plan, even if it sometimes feels right.’’
In a phone call, Borrell then ‘’warmly congratulated’’ Lapid for his appointment said they discussed ‘’the importance of strengthening the bilateral partnership and promoting security and peace in the region,’’adding that he ‘’looked forward welcoming him soon in Brussels.’’
‘’Foreign Minister Lapid is keen on changing the atmosphere of EU-Israel relations and start a new dialogue,’’ said Lior Hayat, spokesperson of the Israeli foreign ministry, during an an online briefing organized this week for European journalists by the Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA).
‘’Relations with Europe are probably the most important we have after our alliance with the United States,’’ he said.
But while there will be ‘’a change in the messaging’’, he stressed that there have been a lot of accomplishments in recent years between Israel and the EU in various fields.
The EU senior official also noted that there are ‘’very substantial’’ bilateral relations between the EU and Israel. ‘’Israel is participating in almost every EU program. The relationship is extremely dense and substantial,’’ he said.
Besides the bilateral relations, Lapid and the 27 ministers will also speak about the Middle East Peace Process. ‘’We want to hear if there is a new approach, a new thinking by the new Israeli government towards the peace process and the Palestinians,’’ the official added.
They will also discuss regional issues ‘’of interest for both Israel and the EU’’, such as Iran, Lebanon and Syria. ‘’We are absolutely aware that Israel has strong strategic concerns with some evolutions in the region, for example Iran and Lebanon,’’ the senior EU official said.
The EU also wants to discuss with Lapid the process of normalization of Israel with some Arab countries like the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.. Last week he travelled to the UAE for the inauguration of Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi and its consulate general in Dubai.
Lapid is likely to raise the question of convening as soon as possible a meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council.
Israel’s relations with the EU ‘’is a priority’’ for Lapid, said Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, Israeli expert on EU-Israel relations at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (Mitvim).
Mihai Sebastian Chihai, a leading policy analyst on EU-Middle East relations at the Brussels-based European Policy Center (EPC) predicts more political dialogue, more cooperation and interaction as well as high level visits between the EU and Israel under the new Israeli Foreign Minister.
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