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EU invites Israeli foreign minister to discuss bilateral cooperation in light of Gaza war

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell
The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell Copyright European Union 2024
Copyright European Union 2024
By Mared Gwyn Jones
Published on
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Josep Borrell confirmed Wednesday that he had asked foreign minister Israel Katz to attend an 'ad-hoc' EU-Israel Association Council.

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The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has convened Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz to discuss the country's compliance with its human rights obligations under the EU-Israel cooperation agreement, also known as the Association Agreement.

Borrell made the announcement on social media platform X on Wednesday afternoon, just over a week after the EU's 27 foreign ministers unanimously backed the move during a meeting in Brussels.

Last Monday, Borrell told reporters that foreign ministers had supported calling for an Association Council - the forum in which the EU and Israel discuss their bilateral cooperation - in order to "discuss the situation in Gaza (...) the respect of human rights" as well as how Israel intends to comply with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling calling on it to cease its offensive in Rafah.

The move comes three months after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkarfirst made a plea for the urgent review of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, citing serious concerns over Israel's military campaign in Gaza and potential violations of human rights and international law.

Whilst Borrell claimed foreign ministers had given him a clear mandate to convene the Association Council, according to Euronews sources, two member states had expressed reservations.

A diplomat from one of those two countries said they wanted to have clarity on the other options available to the EU before convening Israel.

But Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib, whose government holds the rotating six-month presidency of the Council of the EU, said last Thursday that she hoped the Association Council could be held "within one month." Belgium will yield the Council presidency to the Hungarian government - a staunch backer of Israel - at the end of June.

Struck in 2000, the EU-Israel Association Agreement provides the legal basis for the EU's trade relations with Israel. Article 2 of the deal stipulates that cooperation is "based on respect for human rights and democratic principles."

Europe is Israel's main trading partner, accounting for just under a third of all commerce, meaning the Agreement is seen as a powerful tool for the bloc to exert pressure on Netanyahu's war cabinet to refrain from its offensive in the war-torn Gaza Strip.

Some governments, notably Ireland, have pleaded for the EU to take on a firmer stance and use the tools at its disposal to dissuade Netanyahu's government from continuing its offensive in Gaza, where more than 36,000 Palestinians have lost their lives in the first eight months of the war, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin told reporters last week that EU foreign ministers had for the first time broached the possibility of sanctioning Israel.

"For the first time at an EU meeting, in a real way, I have seen significant discussions on sanctions," Martin said, acknowledging some differences between the positions of member states.

"International humanitarian law, adherence to human rights is the raison d'être of the European Union and events are really putting that issue into sharp focus," Martin said.

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