by Keren Setton
JERUSALEM, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- Israel's new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is looking to improve relations with the European Union (EU), after a decade in which relations soured. The thawing of relations comes at a time when the EU is also open towards the change.
The previous government, led by Israel's longest serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, adopted some right-wing nationalist policies which brought to a collision with many EU member states. While the new government is a coalition made up of a broad spectrum of parties and has openly stated it will not be making any major decisions on contentious matters, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is also unlikely to undertake any controversial, nationalist legislation initiatives taken by the previous government and slammed by the EU.
In one sign of the mending of relations, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde visited Jerusalem earlier this week.
Ties with Sweden were especially strained. In 2014, Sweden became one of the first European countries to recognize a Palestinian state. It was a move that was widely condemned in Israel, especially by the Netanyahu government. Comments critical of Israel in the last years by senior Swedish politicians led to further tensions.
The meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Linde came after years of no contacts on such a level between the countries.
The re-establishment of the EU-Israel Association Council which has not convened since 2012 is also on the agenda, which is another signal of the defrosting of ties.
"There is a very positive momentum and both sides are trying to give this public expression," said Nimrod Goren, head of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, "The EU is satisfied with the fact that Netanyahu is no longer prime minister and there is a will to give the new government support."
"There are increasing shared strategic interests," said Toby Greene, from the Department of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, adding that "Israel is an increasingly important state in terms of its size, its regional power."
The strengthening of ties between Cyprus and Greece, both EU member states, and Israel, in recent years also helps mend the relationship with the EU.
In the not-so distant past, relations between Israel and the EU soured because of different attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The EU is not making any major demands of Israel," Goren told Xinhua, "The critical tone has been toned-down and balanced between criticism of Israel and the understanding of the situation in the Palestinian Authority."
"Europe is still committed to the two-state solution," Goren added, "There is no expectation that negotiations will resume and there is an understanding of the complex coalition in Israel with different opinions on the matter."
"There is a change of priorities in Europe because of the increasing threats to Europe that emanate from the Middle East, there is a greater focus on stability, security and strategic concerns and a lesser focus on the main source of tension in the Israel-Europe relationship which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Greene told Xinhua.
There are a range of mutual interests between the EU and Israel that serve as the foundation of the relations, despite the ever-present sticking points.
For Israel, the EU is a major trade partner, with over a third of its exports going to member states. Before the global COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of incoming tourists to Israel were from the EU. Commercial relations and cooperation in various fields continued even during the low points of the relations between the two.
For the EU, Israel offers many opportunities. Israel's hi-tech industry which is offering more and more technologies to deal with climate change and the environment are highly attractive to the EU, which has set itself ambitious goals on the matter.
"The Israeli economy, and particular its innovation, is significant motivator or driver for the EU and its members wanting to have good, rather than bad, relations with Israel," said Greene.
"The differences haven't disappeared," said Goren, "But there is more understanding in Europe that Israel is an asset." Enditem