The European Community has agreed to launch a series of talks aimed at upgrading its relationship with Israel.
This promise was won by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Monday, after a first-ever meeting between a high-ranking Israeli official and the 12 E.C. foreign ministers.
It was the biggest breakthrough to emerge so far from the flurry of meetings that Peres has been holding with international diplomats in recent weeks.
The discussions regarding Israel’s status with the Common Market would be the first such review since 1975, when the E.C. and Israel signed a free-trade agreement. Subsequent requests by Israel for closer links with the E.C. have, until now, been rebuffed.
And while Peres did not received a direct reply to his request that Israel be admitted to the Western European and Others bloc at the United Nations, there was a sense that the request would be seriously, and favorably, considered.
Admission to the bloc would, among other things, enable Israel to campaign for a seat in the U.N. Security Council.
Improved ties with the E.C. hold out the promise of many benefits for Israel, diplomatically and economically. The improved prospects were exciting enough for Israeli officials this week to point publicly to this diplomatic advance as the first concrete dividend from Israel’s new positions on the peace talks.
The talks with the E.C. are set to begin almost immediately between lower-level officials, with Peres and his senior counterparts expected to join in within weeks.
While Israel does not expect to become a full member of the E.C., Peres said he told acting U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger that it aspired to a status similar to that given the six European Free Trade Association countries. Those countries, which have close economic ties with the E.C., will not be a party to the political and monetary agreements envisioned in the proposed European unity treaty.
Israel has also expressed a willingness to allow the Europeans a greater role in the peace process.
“Europe should have a practical role, not just a rhetorical role, in the peace talks,” Peres told reporters.
He said he spoke with the Europeans, and with Eagleburger on Tuesday, about “breathing life” into the multilateral talks, in which the Europeans participate. He said he discussed the possibility of European funding for a proposed Middle East development bank.
Peres said his desire for a stronger European presence in the peace talks was well received by Eagleburger. This, said an Israeli official, was a departure from the previous American attitude of coolness toward the European presence, an attitude held as well by Israel’s former Likud government.
Asked whether he thought Israel would be able to stop the annual flow of anti- Israel resolutions at the United Nations, Peres replied, “You can’t change everything.
“I’m more interested in peace, in how to build a new Middle East, than to change U.N. resolutions. I want to spend the energy there.”
Eagleburger also reiterated American support for the Israeli drive to join the Western European bloc at the United Nations.
Last week, Assistant Secretary of State John Bolton told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that the United States is working with members of the bloc who are sympathetic to Israel’s position to press for Israel’s acceptance on a temporary basis.
“Israel is the only member nation of the U.N. that has not been accepted by a regional body,” said Bolton, who heads the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
The Arab members of the Asian bloc have prevented Israel’s membership there.
European resistance to Israel’s request reflects both fear in some quarters of Arab reaction, and the reluctance of states to dilute their influence in the bloc by allowing new members.
Also, until this year, Israel has not pushed the issue, both because the blocs are not part of the formal structure of the United Nations and because until very recently, Israel was shunned as a pariah by most member states.
Beyond the practical value of the move, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin last week told the World Jewish Congress that Israel’s acceptance into the regional bloc would demonstrate to the Israeli public that the United Nations, like the rest of the world, has changed its attitudes toward the Jewish state.
Beilin also last week was told by Conference of Presidents Chairman Shoshana Cardin that the conference and its member organizations would press Israel’s case with friendly governments.
Delegations from the conference are meeting with various visiting foreign ministers and U.N. delegations to urge them to act on this promptly.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.