'Peace integral to Israel-EU upgrade'

Czech envoy: Upgrade not "officially suspended," but political steps require partner in new gov't.

EU parliament 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
EU parliament 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The pace of the upgrade in Israeli-EU relations depends on the next government's plans and outlook toward the peace process, Czech Ambassador Michael Zantovsky said at a press briefing on Tuesday. Zantovsky, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said the decision made by the EU last year to upgrade relations with Israel remained intact. While EU officials said in January, during Operation Cast Lead, that the upgrade talks had been put on hold until there was a more "favorable atmosphere" - defined as the opening of the crossings to Gaza, economic development there and an effort to promote dialogue - Zantovsky said the upgrade was not "officially frozen or suspended, and some of the work is going on." However, in reference to the governmental transition in Israel, he said it was "obviously" difficult to take "political steps or important decisions" without a partner on the other side, and much of the discussion would have to wait for the new government. Zantovsky said the EU had specifically mentioned a "context" when deciding to push forward with an upgrade of ties with Israel. "The context, I presume, is now the policies of the new Israeli government, and its plans and outlook toward the peace process. That may in turn move to speed up or slow down developments on the upgrade," he said. In December, the EU's foreign ministers approved a significant upgrade in the union's relationship with Israel, despite Palestinian opposition and calls in Europe that this should be linked to developments on the ground. The decision called for ad hoc summit meetings between Israel's prime minister and all EU heads of government, something that has never taken place before. It also called for Israel's foreign minister to meet with all 27 EU foreign ministers three times a year, as well as for a strategic dialogue to discuss issues such as Iran, the diplomatic process and Syria. In addition, it called for the inclusion of Israel in EU peacekeeping forces, and for an EU commitment to help Israel better integrate into UN agencies. The EU 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." On other matters, Zantovsky said the EU favored Palestinian conciliation behind Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and that any Palestinian government needed to accept the international community's three terms for legitimacy: recognizing Israel's right to exist, forswearing terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Asked what the EU position would be if Hamas did not accept the conditions but was still folded into a PA unity government, Zantovsky said, "If Hamas doesn't accept them, then we have a problem."