The Czech Republic said Monday it would push its partners in the European Union to strengthen the bloc's relations with Israel once it assumes the
EU presidency in January.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told reporters that while not all EU governments agree a broadening of relations with Israel is necessary or desirable, "This is a club of 27. It's our intention to start the discussion."
Since last June, the EU and Israel have been exploring ways to grant Israel better access to the vast EU market and give it a role in a range of EU advisory panels. But deepening political and security exchanges needs the unanimous backing of all 27 EU governments.
The Palestinian Authority opposes the EU plan to widen relations with Israel in political, economic, scientific, security, health and other spheres. It wants Israel to do more to ease the humanitarian crisis in Palestinian areas and halt the spread of settlements - a view that finds an echo in Europe, notably in France.
But Schwarzenberg said Israel has been easing West Bank travel restrictions and let Palestinian security forces there maintain law and order in recent months.
He added that upgrading EU-Israel relations would be good for the Palestinians, as well. He said the EU would be better placed to get Israel to ease conditions in Palestinian areas and Palestinians would benefit economically from more EU-Israel trade.
Schwarzenberg said improving the humanitarian situation for Palestinians is not formally linked to upgrading EU-Israel ties, but in practice everyone knows these things are related.
The Czech Republic will hold the rotating EU presidency for the first half of 2009