Prime Minister Yair Lapid pledged his support for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and spoke of his opposition to the revival of the 2015 Iran deal on Monday, when he addressed the first European Union-Israel Association Council meeting to be held in a decade.
"Over the past year, there has also been a positive change in our work with the Palestinian Authority," Lapid told the gathering of EU foreign ministers in Brussels in a virtual address. "We are working with them and helping their economy develop," he added.
"Israel wants peace that will lead to security, not peace that will destabilize the Middle East."Yair Lapid
Lapid referenced his speech in September at the United Nations General Assembly in which he spoke of two states.
"I expressed once more my commitment to the two-state solution. But the Palestinians need to put an end to terrorism and incitement.
"Israel wants peace that will lead to security, not peace that will destabilize the Middle East," he added.
Divides between Israel and EU
The EU and Israel are sharply divided on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Brussels perpetually calling for a freeze on Israeli settlement activity and supporting two states based on the pre-1967 lines with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
The council had met annually since it inception in 2000 and had been an important tool in strengthening bilateral ties. The meeting was suspended in 2013 when Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister, due to tensions between the EU and Israel over settlement activity,
The EU agreed to resume the meetings after Lapid became Prime Minister in July and scheduled the gathering prior to the November elections in Israel.
The resumption of the annual high-level meeting is seen as a diplomatic coup for Lapid. The Israeli delegation to Brussels was led by Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern, who met separately with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on the sidelines of the council meeting.
Iran Deal opposition
Among the topics under discussion was Israel's opposition to EU's attempts to broker a revival of the 2015 Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
"Even though we disagree on the JCPOA, we all agree that everything must be done to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state," Lapid emphasized.
"We are all united in our desire to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Lapid said as the explained that "this is a regime that is murdering its citizens even as we speak."
"The world must not be silent," Lapid stated.
Trouble in Europe
He also spoke against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, stating that "we are all united in our desire for the war in Ukraine to end.
'And in our desire for the restoration of its territorial integrity," he said.
Lapid spoke of the importance of freedom of expression, religion and the press and committed to fight discrimination.
He warned that "antisemitism is on the rise again in Europe. We welcome the EU strategy to combat it and now have to put that plan into action."
Lapid recalled that the EU was Israel's main trading partner and that one if his foreign policy goal was to improve Israel's political and economic ties with the 27-member body.
"This Council has not convened in over a decade — for the wrong reasons. The fact that we are convening it now corrects an historic mistake," Lapid said, adding that "it is an important milestone in our improving relations."
Lapid clarified that EU ties benefited Israel in science, technology, trade, economy, agriculture, cyber, health democracy and the environment, adding that it would lower the cost of living and help Israel combat climate change.
Borrell focussed his remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Relaunching the council "was the best way of frankly engaging on many issues, which are of mutual concern and, in particular, on the [Middle East] Peace Process and on the stability in the wider Middle East region."
He told Lapid he was encouraged by his "clear support" for two states.
"We are - however - also concerned about the continued tensions and violence on the ground and the continuation of unilateral measures, such as settlement expansion, and the security issues."Borrel pointed in particular to the rising number of Palestinian deaths in the West Bank at the hands of Israeli security forces.
"This year is the year in which there has been the highest number of Palestinian deaths since 2007," said Borrell. He did not mention that many of the deaths occurred during violent clashes with the IDF or during terror attacks against Israelis.
Borrell also spoke out against the "forcible transfer" of Palestinians, it's presumed that he meant as the result of IDF demolition of illegal Palestinian homes and the absence of building permits for Palestinians.
The EU foreign policy chief said these were all issues that should be discussed. He referenced the US-brokered Abraham Accords, under whose auspices Israel normalized ties with four Arab countries.
"We believe that this can make a major contribution to enhancing regional stability and have a positive impact on the prospects for resuming the Middle East Peace Process," he said.
Prior to the meeting, Borrell told reporters that it was not enough to have peace with the Arab states, peace was also needed with the Palestinians.
"The two peace processes are necessary. You cannot say that you have peace because you have peace with the Arab states. You also have to have peace with the Palestinians," he said.
"We want the resumption of a political process that could lead to a two-state solution and regional peace," he said.
He dismissed those who had called on the EU not to hold the council meeting, including NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, warning that it emboldened Israeli impunity with respect to its human rights violations against the Palestinians.
"It is more useful to talk about it, than not to have contacts," Borrell said. He referenced a meeting he had hosted with in New York in September with Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians and other Arab nations to discuss options to revive the peace process.
On Iran, Borrell said, that Lapid has been vocal on his opposition to the Iran deal, but that it was important to him to adhere to the UN mandate to operate to revive the deal.
"For the time being in any case, the negotiations are stalled."