The Significance of Convening the European Union – Israel Association Council

On July 18, 2022, the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union (EU) decided to move ahead with convening the EU-Israel Association Council (AC) after a decade-long hiatus. What does this mean? What opportunities does it offer, and what were the costs of not convening it so far? This paper explains what the AC is, the reasons for its suspension and for the decision to re-convene it. Assuming it will re-convene, the paper recommends future measures between Israel and the EU. 


  • What is the Association Council (AC)? It is the institutionalization of an annual dialogue at foreign ministers’ level between Israel and the EU (usually represented by its High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Council rotating Presidency). It is assisted by an Association Committee of senior officials. Since 2005, eight issue-specific sub-committees and two working groups have been formed within its framework. The AC was established by the 1995 EU – Israel Association Agreement and operated regularly since the agreement’s ratification in 2000 through 2012. The AC is authorized to advance and deepen cooperation between Israel and the EU. 

  • From regular meetings to AC suspension: Between 2000-2012 the AC convened regularly despite difficulties in EU-Israel relations throughout the second intifada (2000-2004) and the faltering peace process with the Palestinians (since 2009). It even continued to convene when the EU decided in 2009 on a “linkage policy” and avoided upgrading relations with Israel (specifically refusing to ratify the second “Action Plan”) pending progress in the peace process. 

  • In 2013, Israel declined to hold the AC meeting to protest the EU’s ‘differentiation policy’, which introduced a territorial clause stipulating that all its agreements with Israel would apply only within the 1967 borderlines, not in the Occupied Territories. In 2014, it was the Europeans who did not convene the AC, and the disconnect continued. 

  • An Israeli effort to reconvene the AC: about five years ago a significant number of EU member states objected to the convention of the AC. Their number has decreased significantly since then. Upon his appointment in June 2021, Foreign Minister Lapid set the resumption of the AC meetings as a major foreign policy goal. 

  • Following the Foreign Affairs Council decision to reconvene the AC, and its scheduling for October 6, the EU has to adopt a Common Position on the matter. Israel is also expected to issue a declaration. 

  • The cost of suspending the AC’s activity can be divided to political and practical costs. Politically, the cost was a diplomatic one concerning image, perception, and public attitudes. Most Southern Mediterranean countries maintain regular ACs with the EU. Its absence with the only democracy in the Middle East, especially given the excellent practical relations between the parties and mutual value, was unusual. The loud and accusatory “megaphone diplomacy” that replaced dialogue and discourse in the decade of the AC suspension contributed to the deterioration of relations, to Israeli incitement against the EU and to the deterioration of the EU’s image in Israel, and vice versa. High-level political meetings between the two sides rarely took place. Since the Abraham Accords and Normalization Agreements were signed (in 2020), the EU has not taken part in leveraging regional peace relations. 

  • In terms of practical cooperation, while other countries have signed new and updated cooperation agreements with the EU, Israel and the EU still work according to their 2004 Action Plan. During this period (since 2013), Israel has not joined new EU programs nor did the sides upgrade their trade agreement. 

  • Convening the AC in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Convening the AC is an opportunity for the EU to rethink the framing of its policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Biden’s July 2022 visit to Israel and the Abraham Accords indicate that the US and Arab countries do not condition their relations with Israel on promoting peace with the Palestinians, leaving the EU as the main body to insist on such a stipulation. The EU’s ‘linkage policy’ has not reversed Israeli governments’ unwillingness to restart the peace process with the Palestinians since its collapse in 2014, and currently excludes it from involvement in the regional peace processes. 

  • The conclusion is that Europe must reexamine the path to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. The EU will continue to support the two-state solution, to oppose the construction of settlements and any changes that jeopardize the two-state solution. Its differentiation policy is also expected to continue. However, the EU should examine its linkage policy, which harms trust between the parties. 

  • One way for Europe to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace is by helping to link the Abraham Accords and Israel’s relations of peace/normalization with Arab countries in favor of promoting peace with the Palestinians. 

  • Practical opportunities that may emerge once the AC is convened: Convening the AC is not just an end in itself; rather its success is in promoting practical cooperation between the sides. Specifically, the goal of reconvening the AC is to start talks on a Partnership Priorities agreement setting a number of common goals to advance in the next 3-5 years. Potential cooperation goals could include climate change (with an emphasis on energy, food, agriculture, water, and innovation in each), digitalization, cyber, artificial intelligence, health (including the handling of epidemics), as well as triangular/quadrennial cooperation between Israel, the EU, and an Arab peace/normalization state, leveraging the Abraham Accords in these and other areas. 

  • In addition, Israel should conduct a more comprehensive and up-to-date review of the 20 EU programs for which it is eligible, decide which ones to join, and consider starting negotiations on a new trade agreement that will include the services sector as well as an investor protection agreement, or at the very least on removing barriers and an approximation of laws to facilitate trade. 

  • Conclusion: The EU is Israel’s main economic partner, with which it has extensive strategic practical cooperation. Convening the AC would be the political highlight of the much-improved relations between Israel and the EU over the past year. For the EU, this is an opportunity to end the unhelpful and even harmful absence of regular high-level political dialogue with Israel. 

  • The AC is not an instrument to goad the other side. It is a tool for dialogue, even if critical and harsh, to clarify the parties’ positions. Its renewal is both a constructive means and a symbol of the renewal of substantive dialogue between the parties. It is a tool to rebuild trust between two sides, as well as to strengthen the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements to encourage every opportunity to renew the Israeli – Palestinian peace process. 

  • The renewal of the political dialogue should be leveraged for practical cooperation between Israel and the EU, which will also spill over into ties between Israelis and Europeans, between countries and citizens in the region, to promote prosperity and growth, peace, stability, and democracy, and to jointly combat regional challenges. Relations should be promoted for the benefit of both parties under any government. 

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