On March 19, 2018, the EU ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret took part in a special conference at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on “Israel-Europe Relations: A New Paradigm.” Present at the conference were researchers from the Jerusalem Center and senior officials from the European Union. They discussed ways to improve relations, attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, financing terror, conflict with Iran with regard to the nuclear deal, and the struggle with BDS.
In his address, Ambassador Giaufret referred to May 12, the date of President Trump’s decision regarding the extension of the agreement with Iran. He said:
“Our preference is to continue maintaining the agreement with Iran. There is now a new requirement to monitor the Iranian missile program and also the issue of preserving human rights, and we very much want to discuss these matters.” The ambassador added that the European Union accepts the call from the German foreign ministry to recognize Israel. “It is the correct direction to move toward, and we support it,” the ambassador noted.
No negotiations without the United States
“There can’t be a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the United States,” the ambassador emphasized. He added that these matters were clarified to Mahmoud Abbas during meetings in Brussels and that he hoped the Palestinians would find a way to reach an understanding with the U.S. administration.
“We are working with the White House on a solution, such as the committee that was established last week in Washington on the Gaza Strip. We expect that the Arab states will also get involved in the attempt to bring about a regional solution and an end to the conflict with the Palestinians,” stated the ambassador.
Ambassador Giaufret also said that the European Union has clearly changed its position regarding Abbas’ statements and that he is very much opposed to the denial of Israel’s existence. He added that there has not been a large enough majority in the European Union against Abbas’ most recent anti-Semitic statements on the subject. On the other hand, he took a cooler approach when he said, “Our position is clear on the issue of the occupation of the West Bank. This is our legal standpoint, according to which the Union’s resolutions are made.” The ambassador continued: “This position will not change in the near future.”
The ambassador also referred to the question of PA payments to terrorists and the families of prisoners. He claimed that the European Union has built a mechanism to ascertain that the payments are paid directly to the bodies that are supposed to handle their purpose as defined by the Union, and that there are no payments to the families of terrorists and prisoners.
Incitement from the Palestinian Authority -“A Problem that Should be Dealt With”
Giaufret also referred to the issue of PA incitement. He said that this was an issue that should be monitored and dealt with. He noted that in the European Union there are various projects to bring young people together in order to lower the flames of hatred among the general population.
Categorizing Hizbullah as a Terror Organization – No Change in Position
With regard to relations with Hizbullah and categorizing it as a terror organization, the ambassador stated that, “We are always assessing our relationship with Hizbullah. There is a suggestion to impose additional sanctions on various figures and parts of the organization. However, this resolution needs to be passed unanimously by the members of the organization, and there are also geopolitical considerations that should be taken into account so as not to threaten the stability of Lebanon.”
Relations with Israel and Tagging Products
During the discussion, the question of the European Union marking the prices of products from the territories as a way of tagging them also arose.
“When we look at the details of trade between Israel and Europe, we see that exports from Israel to Europe have risen by 20 percent in spite of the measure of price marking,” the ambassador noted. “The merchandise can enter Europe, but you have to pay full tax on it. In the end, the consumer makes the decision of whether he will purchase the product or not.”
Israel and the European Union’s Shared Values
Ambassador Giaufret referred to the relationship between Israel and Europe as one of shared values. He said that even though at times Israel has clear differences of opinion with the European Union, there are shared interests and values between the western countries and Israel. In his opinion, there is a great chance of economic cooperation in the fields of academics and research. He stated that very soon, negotiations would be held with regard to an agreement for new scientific investments that would replace the Horizon 2020 agreement.
“It’s obvious that there will be hard negotiations on this issue,” he said. Similarly, the ambassador noted that Europe, as the only continent that does not produce its own sources of energy, has a great interest in Israeli gas and tough negotiations are also going on in this regard.
The ambassador added that the discovery of natural gas in Israel and the Mediterranean Basin is extremely important. “There is discussion on the rate of payment and other important geopolitical issues created by the discovery of natural gas.”
Israeli Initiatives and Technology are Sought After in Europe
The ambassador cited the Open Skies agreement as a sharp turning point in relations between Israel and Europe. He said that the agreement did not only lead to a sharp fall in airfares, but it also brought about a significant change in the price of airline fees, availability, and handling European tourists at Ben Gurion airport. He said that the agreement enabled Europeans and Israelis to get to know each other better.
After giving a survey of economic relations between Israel and Europe, the ambassador stated that, “Israeli initiatives and technology are much sought after in Europe and there is a lot of room for cooperation.”