The EU’s foreign ministers, who often fill their periodic conclusions on the “Middle East peace process” with vinegar toward Israel, decided this month to add some honey, promising unparalleled support for Israel and the Palestinians if a peace accord is signed.
“The EU will provide an unprecedented package of European political, economic and security support to both parties in the context of a final status agreement,” the conclusions read at the end of Monday’s monthly meeting of 28 EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
In the event of a final peace agreement, the statement said, “the EU will offer Israel and the future state of Palestine a Special Privileged Partnership, including increased access to the European markets, closer cultural and scientific links, facilitation of trade and investments as well as promotion of business to business relations. Enhanced political dialogue and security cooperation will also be offered to both states.”
While diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said this was “better than another round” of European denunciations of Israel, “no one knows what it really means.”
“They say they will dangle some carrots, but what kind of carrots – what size, how many – is not determined,” one source said.
At a speech in Tel Aviv in 2004, then Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos said the EU should offer Israel a “privileged partnership,” which would include the benefits of EU partnership without participation in EU institutions.
The same type of arrangement was offered to Turkey by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2004, but turned down by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The promise for closer scientific and cultural links comes just weeks after the bruising battle over Israel’s entrance into the EU’s flagship Horizon 2020 R&D project, because of EU’s settlement guidelines prohibiting cooperation with Israeli entities beyond the Green Line.
After months of negotiations, the two sides finally agreed to a formula that would enable Israel’s involvement, and satisfy the EU that none of the benefits would go beyond the Green Line, including to east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
One diplomatic official said that the EU foreign ministers’ statement, markedly different in tone from the conclusions they issued last December, indicated that they were interested in giving the US-led Israeli-Palestinian negotiations a chance to succeed.
The statement said the EU fully supported the efforts of the parties, and praised the “tireless engagement” of US Secretary of State John Kerry, and the leadership shown by “[PA] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu.”
Israeli officials have said in the past it was important for the EU to come out unequivocally behind Kerry’s efforts, so as not to give the Palestinians the impression that if these efforts do not succeed, they would be able to hold out for a better deal through the Europeans.
The statement said the EU would also “contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a peace agreement.” This would include EU contributions to “Palestinian state-building, regional issues, refugees, security and Jerusalem.”
The conclusions, however, were not without their sharp criticisms of Israeli policy.
Saying that the EU warned against actions that undermine the negotiations, the statement said the EU “deplores Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements, which are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace.”
The overall language of the statement, however, was much milder regarding Israel than last year’s conclusions, which included language that gave birth to this summers EU settlement guidelines.