(photo credit: AP)
Expanding the powers of the European monitors at the Rafah crossing was among the topics discussed when senior EU and Israeli officials met in Jerusalem Monday for the annual EU-Israel Association meeting.
Israel has been negotiating with the EU for weeks about getting the European Union observer force at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt to take wider authority upon itself.
Yossi Gal, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for political affairs, has spearheaded the negotiations over this issue and also headed the Israeli team at the Association meting. He was joined on the Israeli side by Rafi Barak, the new deputy director for Western Europe, and Ran Curiel, Israel's ambassador to the EU.
The EU delegation was headed by Horst Freitagm, the deputy director-general in charge of the Middle East at the German Foreign Ministry, and Hugues Mingarelli, director at the European Commission for the Middle East.
The eight-hour meeting, where a number of bilateral issues were discussed, was preceded Sunday by a meeting of a new group - called the "Reflection Group" - to explore ways of strengthening Israeli-EU relations just short of Israeli membership into the EU.
The creation of this body comes amid frustration in Jerusalem at the slow pace of the European Neighborhood Policy, set up in 2004 as a framework to develop closer ties between the EU and some 16 countries, including the Palestinian Authority.
Israel was among those countries, but now would like to see its own direct track toward closer involvement with the EU developed, independent of the other countries in the ENP group that includes Algeria, Belarus, Georgia and Tunisia.
Directors-general and other senior Israeli officials participated in the events, among them the governor of the Bank of Israel, the director-general of the Ministry of Infrastructures, the assistant attorney-general, the director-general of the Council for Higher Education, and officials from the ministries of Industry and Trade, Environmental Protection, Finance, Transportation and the National Security Council.
The Israeli delegates presented broad overviews of activities in various fields, and possibilities were discussed for upgrading relations beyond the current cooperation framework.
This "Reflection Group" is to submit a written report by the end of the year to the European and Israeli foreign ministers with recommendations and practical suggestions.