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Monday, September 13, 2010

Israel seeking to renew talks on upgrading relations with the EU

Israel is trying to use the current 'peace talks' with the 'Palestinians' to leverage an upgrade in its trade relations with the European Union.
The Foreign Ministry has asked senior European Union officials to renew the process of upgrading Israel's relations with the organization, in view of the renewal earlier this month of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In April 2009, the EU suspended the upgrade process after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a reassessment of the peace process and Israeli-PA talks were subsequently suspended.

EU officials say the original decision to upgrade relations with Israel was linked to the peace process that began after the November 2007 Annapolis summit, and that the suspension of the process followed the stall in the peace talks. Many European foreign ministers have said in the past year that progress in the negotiations would offer an opportunity to restart talks on upgrading Israel's EU status as well.
It probably can't hurt to ask, but I don't see this happening. There are other issues that are clouding Israel's relations with the EU. For instance, there is a bill pending in Israel (which would require a separate post for me to discuss in full) that will require transparency in funding of Israeli NGO's by foreigners. The European Union is quite upset about this bill (note - the text they considered is not the current text of the bill, but that's a whole separate issue).
The European Commission has made known its concern over a draft Israeli bill that forces domestic NGOs to regularly disclose funding received from foreign governments.

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele told the European Parliament on Tuesday that Brussels did not support the draft bill.

"We are following with extreme concern the debate in the Knesset over this draft legislation to oblige Israeli NGOs to make public any funds received from foreign governments," he told MEPs.

"We have made our concern clear on several occasions to the Israeli government."


The legislation requires that any spokesperson of an NGO declare in all public appearances that they receive funding from a "foreign political entity". Non-compliance would result in fines or imprisonment.

The EU has taken a particular interest in the bill as the country's human rights groups receive a great deal of their funding from the bloc.


Mr Fuele acknowledged there had been improvements to the bill, but still said the legislation placed an onerous burden on civil society groups.

"We believe the demand for transparency from the NGOs remains too demanding," he said.

"The new criteria for transparency solely concerns public finance, which would be discriminatory vis-a-vis those working with public funds, notably those from the EU."

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the law is redundant as existing legislation requires that groups already disclose funding sources on their websites and annual reports.

The ACRI also says that the bill is selective in that it requires only reporting of public funding rather than funds from private foundations. Israeli human rights groups tend to receive funding from public sources while conservative Israeli organisations and think-tanks supporting settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories tend to receive funding from private American Jewish and Christian foundations.

The group urges the legislation be dropped, or "to amend the bill by requiring full transparency of all types of organisations regarding all the sources of their foreign funding, not limiting the expanded reporting requirements only to funds received from foreign state entities."
I'll try to have more on the NGO bill later - I have previously discussed the current bill here and its previous version here.

Another reason it's unlikely that Israel will get an upgrade in its relations with the EU is that it's Yom Kippur at the end of this week.


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