The European Union and Israel on Monday held high-level talks for the first time in a decade, with the Europeans pressing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid about how to put a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians into place.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell welcomed the recent support from Lapid — who took part in Monday’s talks by videoconference — for an end to the conflict based on an Israeli and Palestinian state living peacefully side by side.
"This is also what we want to push for. We want the resumption of a political process that can lead to a two-state solution and a comprehensive regional peace," Borrell said. "We have to explore how we can put this into practice."
"It’s better to sit and discuss frankly, than to avoid any contact. Certainly we disagree. Certainly we express concern, but I think it’s more positive to sit and discuss," Borrell told reporters in Brussels.
In his opening remarks at the meeting — led in Brussels by Israeli Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern — Borrell underlined the EU's concern "about the continued tensions and violence on the ground and the continuation of unilateral measures, such as settlement expansion, and the security issues."
It's the first time the two sides have held an "Association Council" since July 2012. Israel and the EU signed an Association Agreement governing their ties in 1995, and the pact entered force in 2000. Talks were meant to be held annually, but Israel canceled a planned 2013 meeting over the EU’s policy toward Israeli settlements. Some EU countries have also been reluctant to meet since then.
Lapid welcomed the meeting.
"It is an important milestone in our improving relations. This past year has seen some vast progress in our ties — and there is still so much more that we can do," he said, according to the speech released by his office.
However, there is no short-term prospect for peace.
Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank is now in its 55th year. The last real peace talks ended in 2009, and critics say growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere undermine any hopes for a two-state solution. The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank along with Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Palestinian group Hamas, for a future state.
Lapid is serving as caretaker prime minister until a Nov. 1 election, in which he is facing a tough race against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Opinion polls indicate that even if Lapid is able to form a new government, the next parliament, like the current one, will be dominated by hard-line parties that oppose Palestinian statehood.
At the UN General Assembly last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that "our confidence in achieving a peace based on justice and international law is waning, due to the Israeli occupation policies."
Speaking a day after Lapid addressed the assembly, Abbas delivered a pessimistic assessment of diplomacy, saying a "frantic campaign to confiscate our lands" persisted in the generations-long dispute, while the military "are killing the Palestinian people in broad daylight" with impunity.