E.U. Upgrades Ties with Israel

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BRUSSELS, Belgium - The 27-member European Union General Affairs and External Relations Council approved a broad upgrade of diplomatic ties with Israel, despite strong objections by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Egypt.

The decision comes less than a week after the EU parliament shelved plans to vote on the upgrade, a position applauded by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who has lobbied the EU for months to link bilateral ties with Israel to progress in the Israel-Palestinian negotiations.

But the parliament's decision paled in light of Monday's announcement by EU foreign ministers, which some believe will play a more decisive role in EU policy.

The expanded basket, approved by all 27 foreign ministers, will impact such areas as trade, culture, transportation, and energy.

The new arrangement calls for increased contact between Israeli and European prime ministers and foreign ministries, more frequent dialogue on counter-terrorism and other strategic issues, and increased discussions on human rights and anti-Semitism.

"[The upgrade] must be based on the shared values of both parties and particularly on democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, good governance and international humanitarian law," the Council's statement read.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called the upgrade "a significant achievement for Israeli diplomacy, which opens up a new chapter between Israel and the countries of the EU."

"This new chapter faithfully reflects the strengthening cooperation between the sides based on common values and similar world views," Livni said.

Source: The Jerusalem Post

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