EU ratifies aviation agreement with Israel despite annexation strain

The European Parliament has ratified the landmark Open Skies agreement with Israel, but warns that there could still be sanctions if annexation goes forward.

al-monitor An El Al plane is seen on the tarmac as Israel's airport authority announced the resumption of air travel after weeks of bare-minimum flights due to the novel coronavirus outbreak at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, May 14, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Topics covered

annexation, israeli occupation, european sanctions, european middle east policy, european union, airlines, air travel

Jun 18, 2020

In a major achievement for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, The European Parliament ratified the EU-Israel Euro-Mediterranean Aviation Agreement, also knowns as the Open Skies agreement. On June 17, 437 European legislators voted in favor of the deal, with only 102 against it and with 147 abstentions. Similar agreements were ratified with Jordan, Georgia and China.

The Open Skies agreement enables European and Israel airline companies to more easily operate direct flights between any airport in the Union and Israel. It also provides a framework for a wide range of aviation issues, including air traffic management, passenger rights and competition matters. It should lower flight prices, protect European and Israeli consumers and enlarge the number of European destinations for Israeli tourists. A preliminary agreement with the European Union was reached in 2013, but this formalization should now offer the Israeli economy a significant boost on the backdrop of the coronavirus-induced crisis.

"The final ratification of this agreement is an important expression of the relationship Israel has with the EU, particularly regarding trade, R&D and tourism. The ratification of this agreement will contribute significantly to the rehabilitation of Israel's tourism and aviation sectors. This is especially important now as Israel faces an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak and looks to restart flights and tourism,” stated Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. The minister also thanked Israel’s envoy to the EU, Ronny Leshno-Yaar, for years of hard work on the agreement.

Indeed, the road to this final ratification was not an easy one for Israel. With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation plan fiercely opposed by several EU member states, the ratification vote could have been postponed until a later date. The European Union might sanction Israel economically if the annexation plan is adopted by the Knesset, and the unratified Open Sky agreement could have been a tool for doing so. Some leftist factions within the European Parliament tried yesterday to delay the vote until after July 1, the earliest date Netanyahu can bring up his annexation plan for vote, but their motion was not accepted.

"This is an enormous achievement of the Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Israeli diplomats in EU countries. The bottom line is friendship won over enmity, and the recognition of the importance of the friendship with Israel overcame all other considerations,” said Leshno-Yaar.

Still, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell hurried today to emphasize that there will be “significant consequences” for the EU-Israel relationship if Israel goes ahead with annexation. Speaking before the European Parliament, Borrell said, "I will not prejudge the specific impact of a possible annexation, but let me underline that the EU has its own obligations and responsibility under international and EU law.”

 

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