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The EU is trying to reset its often thorny relationship with Israel next week by calling a summit of high-ranking political figures on Monday for the first time in a decade.

The formula for the meeting, known as the EU-Israel Association Council, has essentially been dormant since 2013, when Israel canceled a rally protesting against the EU’s stance on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Since then, both sides have continued to clash on similar issues.

But the departure of tough Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2021 has opened the door to the present rapprochement. His successor, Yair Lapid, who also serves as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has: took over a two-state solution with Palestine – a position more in line with that of many EU countries, even though several countries are still expected to express their disapproval of Israel’s Palestinian policies on Monday. Brussels is also willing to support Israel’s energy supplies during Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Lapid is expected to attend Monday’s board meeting.

“There is great hope that the upcoming EU-Israel Association Council will bring… new wind to our relations,” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský told POLITICO last week at the UN General Assembly, expressing optimism that development would be one. the most important achievements of the six-month rotating presidency of the Czechs in the EU.

Nevertheless, it will not be easy to reach an EU consensus on one of the world’s most famous conflicts.

Countries such as Ireland and Sweden have traditionally adopted a more pro-Palestinian stance – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stopped in Dublin to meet the Irish Prime Minister earlier this month on his way to the UN’s annual assembly. At the other end of the spectrum, Israel has strong supporters in the EU. For example, Hungary is a staunch ally whose economic and ideological ties have developed over the years between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Netanyahu.

Before the EU-Israel Council fell into darkness, for over a decade it served as a forum for officials to meet regularly and discuss these issues. Now that the council is about to be reactivated, member states are messing around with an official communication that must satisfy a spectrum of views on EU-Israel relations.

Finding a common language can mean weeks of fighting for one word, while behind-the-scenes deals are trimmed to cater to countless interests. Palestinian officials are also keeping a close watch, urging them not to be overlooked in a similar diplomatic engagement with Brussels.

This year alone, the complicated role of the EU in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sparked much controversy.

This spring, the European Commission was forced to delay funding for the Palestinian Authority over textbooks that critics said contained anti-Israel incitement to violence.

The decision to block the funds was led by the Hungarian Enlargement Commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi. As POLITICO first reported, 15 countries sent a letter to the Commission in April criticizing the move. Finally, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the money would be spent during her July visit to the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi | Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP via Getty Images

Further tensions with Tel Aviv surfaced in the wake of an Israeli raid in July on the offices of Palestinian NGOs.

Israel has accused these groups – some of which have received funding from EU countries – of being terror*st organizations. However, many EU countries were not convinced.

In a joint statement at the time, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden all denounced Israel, saying it had not provided “relevant information” to justify the raids. The bloc reiterated these “deep fears” in August after more Israeli air strikes against civil society groups.

Another dynamic influencing the EU’s relations with Israel are the continent’s energy problems. As Europe struggles to find alternative sources of Russian gas, one possible answer is to deepen its energy ties with Israel.

During his June visit to Israel, von der Leyen signed Memorandum of Understanding with Israel and Egypt to Increase Gas Exports. The EU is also Israel’s largest trading market, accounting for approximately one-third of all Israel’s trade.

But while economic imperatives explain part of the new emphasis on engagement with Israel, long-term observers say that coverage also reflects a new eagerness to engage with Tel Aviv following Lapida’s rise to power this summer. Lapid took office under the power-sharing agreement with Naftali Bennett, which he had held for a year before him.

“I think this is a real change,” said Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, who heads the Israel-Europe program at the Mitvim Institute, an Israeli think tank. “The tone has been changed by Lapid who shares much of the normative position of the EU on the liberal democratic world order. It is much more positive now than under Netanyahu, even though Bennett, and now Lapida’s government, are not accelerating the peace process. “

Sion-Tzidkiyahu said win-win scenarios helped replace “megaphone diplomacy” with closer dialogue.

“Disputes on contentious issues such as Palestinian and Iranian will not go away, but perhaps there is now a better understanding of each side’s concerns,” she said.

Lipavský, Czech Foreign Minister, is aware of the concerns of some EU countries about the actions of the Israeli government in the West Bank and towards the Palestinians.

“We have to discuss [these concerns] openly, but I don’t think one thing is blocking the debate about the others, ‘he said.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen poses for photos with Israeli Yair Lapid | Pool photo by Maya Alleruzzo / AFP via Getty Images

Officially, the EU supports a two-state solution which sees a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel – a vision also shared by the United States. But the realization of this perspective seems as distant as ever.

Sven Koopmans, the EU’s Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, wrote earlier this month that all sides must help identify ways to resolve the man-made conflict.

“The current situation is increasingly seen as a structural human rights problem in which Israel has the upper hand,” he wrote in an Israeli newspaper. Haaretz. “It negatively affects how the world views Israel and poses risks in the long run. It should not be like this.

When it comes to resuming the peace process, Sion-Tzidkiyahu is not confident.

“Under the current political conditions in the Palestinian Authority and Israel, such a development is not anticipated,” she said. “At most, the EU can pursue more practical steps by Israel to improve the situation of the Palestinians.”

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