Skip to main content

Israel, EU reconcile, agree to hold summit after Cohen-Borrell meeting

In a surprising move, Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell agreed in Brussels to hold an association council meeting by the end of 2023. Israel is also advocating for more EU sanctions on Iran.
Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen and EU high commissioner for foreign affairs josep Borrell , Brussels, may 2 2023

BRUSSELS — At a meeting on Tuesday in Brussels, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell agreed to open a new page in Israel-EU relations and hold an Israel-EU association meeting by the end of the year, with Jerusalem being considered as the host.

The meeting between Cohen and Borrell took place one month after a most difficult phone conversation between the two, qualified by an Israeli senior diplomatic source as a "blowup." The difficult phone call took place on March 16 when the Times of Israel cited an unnamed diplomatic source who claimed that Israel had signaled to the EU that Borrell was not welcome in Israel. 

Borrell had indicated his desire to visit Israel, but after he published an article criticizing the policies of the Netanyahu government vis-a-vis the Palestinians, the Foreign Ministry made it clear he was not welcome. 

Cohen and Borrell met in Brussels for over an hour in what the diplomatic source called a "dramatic and surprising" meeting. The Israeli Foreign Ministry was expecting a tense meeting between the two men. The last association council meeting — the legal framework for the relations between Israel and the EU — took place last year when Yair Lapid served as foreign minister in the former Bennett government, the first meeting in a decade. The association council meeting usually includes meetings of 10 different committees that discuss relations and joint projects. These meetings enable the two sides to expand and deepen relations. Over the years, as the EU and Israel sparred over Israel's settlement policies, these meetings did not take place. 

The diplomatic source said that during the meeting, Borrell condemned several times the rocket fire from Gaza. Cohen asked Borrell to condemn also the "pay for slay" policy of the Palestinian Authority (PA) — or paying stipends to families of Palestinian assailants imprisoned in Israel. To that, Borrell did not give a direct response. Cohen also asked the EU to expand sanctions on Iran in order to halt Tehran’s nuclear program.

Before meeting with Borrell, Cohen met first with the EU’s Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, and then with President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola. Varhelyi is considered a close friend of Israel, advancing joint projects and also in relation to the Abraham Accords. Metsola has been long engaged in battling antisemitism in Europe and thus is considered by Jerusalem a strong partner.

At their meeting, Cohen and Varhelyi discussed promoting a series of trilateral projects with Israel, the EU and Arab partners, as well as a new project for Israel to de-mine war-stricken areas in Ukraine. An Israeli diplomatic source told Al-Monitor that the EU is interested in assisting joint projects with Israel, Jordan and Egypt in the field of emergency preparedness. Another initiative in the pipes is an Israel-Jordan-EU project on the preservation of beaches in the Red Sea towns of Eilat and Aqaba.  

A statement issued by the spokesperson of Israel’s Foreign Ministry after the Cohen-Varhelyi meeting said the two discussed EU finances used by the PA for schoolbooks that include anti-Semite incitement. "With Commissioner Varhelyi, we concluded that the EU will no longer transfer funds that are later used by the Palestinian Authority for incitement against Israel. We are not against assisting the PA, but we will not allow a situation where such budgets are used indirectly for terror acts or incitement against Israel," read the statement.

Relations between the Netanyahu government and the EU have been frosty over Israel’s pro-settlement policies. In parallel, Israeli diplomacy has been campaigning for several months now for the EU to expand its sanctions against Iran and add the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to the EU list of terror organizations. A senior Israeli official told Al-Monitor that Israel is in constant contact with Brussels over sanctions against Iran. Israel is supporting expanding the sanctions on Iranians breaching human rights but is also pushing for more sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities involved in fabricating drones used by the Russian army against Ukraine. 

Cohen told Al-Monitor that he was surprised and pleased by the outcome of his meeting with Borrell. "Our meeting was very good. Our hope now is that EU statements on Israel will be balanced and fair. We have agreed to hold an association meeting by the end of the year — I hope it will take place in Jerusalem. It is really a new page that we are opening in the Israel-EU relations." Addressing the meeting that should take place on Wednesday in Brussels of the countries donating to the Palestinians, Cohen stressed, "We are not against assisting the Palestinians. What we are against is for European funds to be used not for humanitarian causes but for incitement."

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in