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EU foreign ministers will discuss the seemingly urgent question on Tuesday of what their governments and Brussels can do to end the latest deadly violence between Israel and the Palestinians, which has raged for more than a week. But top officials, diplomats and experts in the Middle East say the answer has been known for years: nothing.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell convened the ministers’ special video conference after repeatedly making statements in the past few days calling for Hamas to put an end to rocket fire against Israeli civilians and calling on Israel “to act proportionately.” avoid civilian casualties “.
However, EU countries have long been deeply divided over the Israel-Palestine issue, as became clear on Sunday when EU Ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, made a statement to the Security Council in which he said the Condemned violence but was prevented from speaking “on behalf” of its member states. “Hungary, an ally of Israel, blocked the declaration.
Likewise, Borrell is often forced to make declarations on the Israel-Palestine conflict without the unanimous consent of the 27 member countries so that he can effectively speak for himself. Without national capitals on board, the EU is powerless in terms of foreign policy.
The result is that with increasing civilian casualties, the EU is again between and between the combatants. Israel, as a co-democracy, demands stronger and unambiguous support from Brussels and the condemnation of Hamas, which has already been identified as a terrorist organization in the EU. Meanwhile, the Palestinians accuse the EU of turning a blind eye to violations of international law and decades of territorial occupation and legal violations.
In terms of geopolitical influence, this means the EU is nowhere to be found.
“It is difficult to find full consensus on Israel in the European Union,” said Javier Solana, former NATO secretary general and former EU high representative on common foreign and security policy, in an interview for POLITICO’s confidential podcast Thursday broadcast.
“[There] There has never been a clear consensus about Israel, and especially when the situation is like that, ”said Solana. “But we should be able to do something … to help the people who are suffering now.”
Borrell, who like Solana is a former Spanish foreign minister, hopes Tuesday’s video conference will at least result in consensus on a haunted statement aimed at halting the worst violence in years and reducing the risk of escalation. However, other officials and diplomats said the meeting could do little more than highlight the EU’s hopeless discord.
Among the 27 member countries, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden and Luxembourg are the most critical of Israel. Countries in Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, support Israel the most, although in recent days the flag of Israel has been waving a show of support well above the headquarters of Germany’s largest ruling party and official buildings in Austria and the Czech Republic in 2011. Greece and Cyprus have also grown closer to Israel in recent years, partly due to tensions with Turkey.
France usually tries to stake out more neutral ground, but President Emmanuel Macron’s office has made statements in the past few days that are firmly against Israel. The Elysee’s statements “strongly condemned the rocket launch claimed by Hamas and other terrorist groups against Israeli territory” but were vague when referring to Israeli bombing.
In addition, they said Macron had “expressed condolences to the many Palestinian civilian casualties as a result of military operations and ongoing clashes with Israel”. Macron also reiterated its “unwavering attachment to the security of Israel and its right to defend itself in accordance with international law” but failed to reiterate its support for the rights of the Palestinians or the international legal status of Jerusalem in line with the historical status of France to recall position.
This round of clashes came after disputes over attempts by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from a neighborhood in Jerusalem and persistent Israeli police operations in the Al-Aqsa mosque. Hamas used these incidents to fire rockets at Israeli cities. Israel responded with heavy bombing raids on the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Deputy Ambassador to the EU, Walid Abu Haya, said in an interview on Monday that Brussels needed to step up its support for a democratic ally under terrorist attacks.
“What we want from Europe is very strong and clear support,” said Abu Haya. “The EU cannot simply try to keep the balance here. The situation is not balanced. All members have declared Hamas a terrorist organization. “
He said Israel will oversee Tuesday’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting but will definitely defend itself for as long as necessary, with or without EU support.
“Every effort should be made now to stop this terrorism,” he said. “Israel’s intentions are very clear. We’re not stopping, we’re going until we put an end to this Hamas attack. “
While Israel is confident it has the support of allies like Germany, it has less confidence in Borrell, who has criticized Israel in the past, including a statement in late April that indicated that Israel was holding elections in the Palestinian territories with special needs. EU officials said Borrell had an “open” conversation with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi that included concerns about civilian casualties and a disproportionate military response.
An EU spokesman told a press conference on Monday that Borrell hoped ministers would agree on steps to stop the violence and resume peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
But Borrell’s social democratic political family also criticized Israel and at the same time called for an end to the violence.
“We believe that the EU must take its responsibility and promote peace and a lasting solution, and not only the EU but also the international community should speak out and put an end to the Israeli occupation and advocate a two-state Use solution. Utta Tuttlies, spokeswoman for the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said at a press conference.
However, Tuttlies also pointed out the EU’s difficulties in finding a unified position. “We call on the EU and the international community to take their responsibilities and the EU to speak with one voice to stop the violence,” she said.
In the podcast interview, Solana said the EU needs to find a way to go beyond bland statements and that calling for negotiations between the two sides is unrealistic at the moment. He said Tuesday’s foreign ministers meeting should at least seek “some mobilization” on the humanitarian front to alleviate the suffering of those most affected by the conflict.
However, many diplomats, officials and experts said that the EU’s best chance of influencing the Middle East comes from France, which is the only permanent member of the EU on the UN Security Council after Brexit.
On Monday, Macron met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Paris.
France has no diplomatic relations with Hamas and supports the Egyptian mediation between Hamas and Israel. However, no timetable for ending hostilities has emerged, and there have been no calls for an “immediate ceasefire” or plans for a limited humanitarian lull, mainly because Israel is not yet ready to cease military operations.
Instead, the two presidents agreed “to continue coordination in order to promote a quick ceasefire”.
On Thursday, Macron spoke to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has no influence over Hamas or East Jerusalem. As a sign of the secondary role of France and Europe in the conflict, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “not available for a call that day,” according to Macron’s office. The two spoke on Friday. Netanyahu found time to speak to US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian conducted intensive diplomacy and discussed the situation with his American, Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian colleagues.
In a statement on May 10, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “France is deeply concerned about the threat of evictions against residents of Sheikh Jarrah’s neighborhood in east Jerusalem who are part of the illegal settlement policy under international law,” and reaffirmed France’s attachment to the Preservation of the historical status quo on the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque “.
Speaking at the press conference on Monday, Peter Stano, a spokesman for the European Commission, said the EU regards Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as illegal and Brussels has also called for re-examination and reluctance to face evictions.
However, Stano said the main goal was to end the military conflict.
“The representatives of the European public, in this case the foreign ministers, are trying very hard to deal with the situation and to find the best possible EU contribution to de-escalating and ending the violence,” he said. “And I think that’s it. I can only repeat that the losses are of course unacceptable. “
Jacopo Barigazzi, Maïa de La Baume and Andrew Gray contributed to the coverage.