Israel urges Portugal to rekindle EU links

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa (R) during their meeting at Sao Bento Palace in Lisbon, Portugal, 05 December 2019. [EPA-EFE/MARIO CRUZ]

Israel hopes that Portugal will be able to convince the EU to reconvene the Israel-EU Association Council during the Portuguese presidency of the European Union, the country’s envoy said on Thursday (21 January).

“I think it is time for the [EU-Israel] Association Council to meet again,” Raphael Gamzou said during a video conference on cooperation between Portugal and Israel under the Portuguese EU presidency.

The Israeli ambassador in Lisbon said the country’s EU presidency was a good opportunity to relaunch bilateral ties, an idea defended by Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva during his last visit to Israel in December.

“This was also the perspective of Santos Silva, who expressed it during our talks here in Israel. I hope he will be able to convince all [EU] member countries to agree to meet the Association Council again,” he said.

Gamzou recalled that “the EU-Israel Association Council has not met since 2012” as “some member countries, unfortunately, wanted to create a link between this process in the Middle East and the relationship with the EU”.

“We consider this to be a very wrong idea. There is nothing positive about this link. The only message he sends to Palestine is that it can still have benefits if it does not join the negotiating table. We believe that Europe should send the opposite message to the Palestinians by calling them back to the negotiating table, which is the only way to achieve some progress”, he argued.

The EU-Israel Association Agreement, in force since 2000, is the legal framework governing the relationship between the EU bloc and Israel.

In 2012, the EU decided to insert a “territorial clause” in all agreements signed with Israel, which explicitly excludes the occupied territories.

In an interview with the ‘Jerusalem Post’ in December, Santos Silva said it had been possible “to plan future talks and cooperation with Israel in a much more positive way”.

However, he warned that if Israel backtracked on its promise to suspend annexation plans, this “would be an obstacle to deepening cooperation between the two entities”.

Ambassador Gamzou added that Israel expected the Portuguese presidency of the EU to “support full participation in Horizon Europe”, the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation for the period 2021 to 2027, which is scheduled to be launched in Lisbon in February.

Horizon Europe follows on from the ‘Horizon 2020’ programme. Israel is an associated member, and therefore “Portugal has a full understanding of the contribution of Israel’s innovative ecosystem” in the field of research and science, he stressed.

Gamzou spoke during a digital conference held by the Portugal-Israel Chamber of Commerce, the Israeli Mission to the European Union and consulting firm Eupportunity, to discuss cooperation between the two countries during the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union, which began on 1 January.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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