BRUSSELS (EJP)---As part of the EU's assessment of its partnership with 12 neighbouring countries known as the “European Neighborhood Policy” (ENP), the European Commission and Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, listed a set of recommendations regarding relations with Israel.
The European Neighbourhood Policy governs the relations between the EU and Israel which are linked by an Association Agreement since 2000.
Throughout 2011, an effort was made to infuse greater dynamism into EU-Israel relations. The Association Council met in February, and the EU and Israel agreed to further explore the opportunities still offered by the current Action Plan in a number of sectors and policy areas, as well as to pursue “technical talks” in order to identify areas for future potential cooperation.
The recommendations, titled “Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy,” include a call on Israel “to continue to step up its efforts to minimise settler violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and to bring all perpetrators to justice” and “address the excessive use of administrative detention.”
“The situation in the occupied territories, in the context of a stalled peace process and worrying developments on the ground, including increased settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, remained tense,” they said.
“Palestinian economic and social rights remain hampered by Israeli restrictions on the freedom of movement. Restrictions on movement and access have a negative impact on the ability of Palestinians to obtain Schengen visas. Property rights came under particular strain and the risk of forced displacement of Bedouin communities increased. “
They also mentioned “a trend that became apparent in 2010 continued with an unprecedented number of bills that can be labelled as "discriminatory" or even "anti-democratic being tabled in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.”
“The democratic process still ensures that many of these bills do not become law, but their number, and the little effort made by their proponents to hide the fact that they were intended to benefit or target specific individuals or organisations, is worrying.”
In particular the EU cited the “adoption of an amendment to the law of defamation and a certain politicization of media appointments indicate a worsening climate for investigative journalism.”
The EU report also said “progress on the situation of the Arab minority was limited. Women’s rights have become the subject of increasing debate as a result of a more aggressive attitude on the part of the ultra-Orthodox groups.”
It continued: “The EU remains one of the largest donors supporting Israeli civil society efforts to promote human rights and conflict resolution. This exposes the EU to some public and government criticism.”
On the economic situation in Israel, the report said that “despite good economic growth and low unemployment, Israel has the highest poverty rate in the OECD and remains characterised by deep socio-economic cleavages.”
“’Social justice protests’ highlighted concerns about the increased cost of living and the high and rising rate of relative poverty. This led the government to take steps to gradually decrease housing and commodity prices, encourage competition and limit the influence of business conglomerates in the local market. “
In 2011 EU was the main trading partner for Israel with total trade amounting to approximately 29.5 billion euros, an increase by 15%.
On the plus side, the report said Israel had a "good performance" in the fight against corruption, and continued to protect the independence of the judiciary.
“Throughout 2011, an effort was made to infuse greater dynamism into EU-Israel relations,” the report said.
The EU-Israel Association Council met in February and both sides agreed “to further explore the opportunities still offered by the current Action Plan in a number of sectors and policy areas, as well as to pursue “technical talks” in order to identify areas for future potential cooperation.”
But the plan to enhance their political relations is still frozen due to the continued stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
The European Neighbourhood Policy report, drafted jointly by High Representative Catherine Ashton and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle came one day after European Union Foreign Ministers issued a statement on the Middle East Peace Process sharply criticizing Israel for its settlement policy in the West Bank.