The European Union expressed both criticism and hope for renewed cooperation with Israel at a meeting on Tuesday (22 February) of the EU-Israel Association Council.
János Martonyi, foreign minister of Hungary, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, was enthusiastic about the prospects of new cooperation under the existing agreement, saying "we have discussed how to further develop our cooperation and dialogue. The potential for this is huge".
Last year, the Association Council was postponed and then cancelled due to a cooling of relations between the EU and Israel following Gaza war and the EU's refusal to upgrade relations with Israel.
An EU statement outlined a non-exhaustive list of new areas of cooperation, including competition policy issues, access to public procurement markets, international marketing standards for fruits and vegetables, the integration of Israel into the European Research Area and Israeli participation in EU agencies.
Criticism over Palestinian issue
The EU also expressed strong criticism of Israeli policies, particularly with regard to the treatment of the Palestinians. The statement called for humanitarian aid to be allowed to flow into the Gaza Strip and condemned the conviction by an Israeli military court of Palestinian activist Abdallah Abu Rahma.
The EU once again slammed Israel over the expansion of new settlements in the West Bank, saying that Tel Aviv "has not extended the moratorium as requested by the EU, the US and the Quartet, and reiterates its views that settlements, including in East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace".
The EU also raised concerns about domestic Israeli issues, stressing the importance of NGOs and encouraging the government to "address the economic and social situation of the Arab minority, to enhance their integration in Israeli society and protect their rights".
The meeting follows the US veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. All 14 other states on the UN Security Council – including EU members France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Portugal – had voted for the resolution.
A recent EU report on East Jerusalem, leaked last January, claimed that the country was attempting to progressively separate East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
The report, which highlighted the demolition of a hotel in the area to make way for 20 new homes for Israeli settlers, recommended that EU officials refuse to visit Israeli government facilities in East Jerusalem and that the EU boycott products from East Jerusalem. It is unclear which of these recommendations, if any, are to be implemented.
Israel-Palestine conflict has no ties to Arab revolt
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected the argument of some analysts that there was a link between the turmoil in the Arab world and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The Israel-Palestinian conflict is not the main issue, not the main problem," Lieberman said after talks in Brussels on EU-Israeli ties.
"The main reason for instability is poverty, misery, inefficient government," he said at a press conference briefly interrupted by a protestor shouting 'Free Palestine! Israel is a criminal state!'.
"I don't see linkage between Israel-Palestine and unrest in Egypt, Bahrain or Egypt and Libya," Lieberman added.