The EU's foreign ministers approved a significant upgrade in the body's diplomatic relationship with Israel on Monday, despite Palestinian opposition and some calls in Europe that this should be linked to developments on the ground. The approval of the upgrade by the 27 EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels as the General Affairs and External Relations Council, came less than a week after the European parliament indefinitely postponed a scheduled vote on the upgrade. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who pushed for the upgrade in ties some 18 months ago, called the development a "significant achievement for Israeli diplomacy, which opens up a new chapter between Israel and the countries of the EU. This new chapter faithfully reflects the strengthening cooperation between the sides based on common values and similar world views." The upgrade in diplomatic ties is the first in a series of upgrades in numerous fields, among them trade, transportation, energy and culture. The upgrade will make possible Israeli participation in a wide variety of EU programs that were previously closed to it. EU and Israel agreed to the upgrade in principle last June, and the process that is now under way is meant to give content to that decision. The agreement reached Monday calls for the following:
Ad hoc summits between the Israeli prime minister and his European counterparts
Three meetings a year between the Israeli and European foreign ministers
Periodic meetings between the Foreign Ministry director-general and his European colleagues
Continuous dialogue on the professional level to discuss the diplomatic process, strategic issues, counterterrorism, and other issues
Deepening the discussion about anti-Semitism and human rights
European assistance in greater Israeli integration in the United Nations
The possibility of Israeli participation in EU peace missions.
The diplomatic upgrade came less than a week after the European parliament indefinitely postponed a scheduled vote over plans to upgrade EU-Israeli relations.
The parliament's vice president, Luisa Morgantini, was reported as saying the postponement was a signal that the European parliament was "not deaf to the suffering of people in Gaza and the West Bank."
That vote was seen by some observers as an indication of a revival in Europe of those favoring linking the level of EU-Israeli bilateral ties to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, a position that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad has been lobbying the EU on for months.
The parliament vote, though a symbolic victory for Fayad, was largely only declarative in nature. While it could cause some technical difficulties in implementing various aspects of the upgrade plan in other spheres, the decision taken Monday by the foreign ministers was the far more significant vote, and the one that will guide EU policy.
Israeli diplomatic officials said France, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, played an important role in smoothing over hurdles and making the upgrade possible.
On the other hand, Israeli officials said Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and - to a certain extent - Britain, all worked unsuccessfully to link the upgrade to developments on the ground.
The text adopted by the ministers hints at some linkage, but Israeli officials said this was very general in nature and something Jerusalem could easily live with.
The upgrade, according to conclusions issued after the meeting, "must be based on the shared values of both parties, and particularly on democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, good governance and international humanitarian law."
The statement also said the upgrade "should also be conceived and viewed in the context of the full range of our common interests and objectives. These include, inter alia, the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through implementation of the solution based on the coexistence of two states, the promotion of peace, prosperity and stability in the Middle East and the search for joint answers to challenges which could threaten these goals."