Can the EU help defuse tensions as Israeli-Palestinian violence escalates?
The senior EU diplomat demanded an immediate end to the ongoing violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories amid a fourth night of rocket attacks and devastating airstrikes.
At least 69 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since violence escalated on Monday, the health ministry said, while medical officials said seven people were killed in Israel.
Thousands of Israelis spent Wednesday evening in air raid shelters amid rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, as mob violence erupted in mixed Israeli towns, with Arab and Israeli businesses looted and torched .
On Tuesday, EU High Representative Josep Borrell called for an end to the chaos. “The serious escalation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, including the sharp upsurge in violence in and around Gaza, must end,” he said in an official statement.
Adding that the EU was “appalled” by the number of reported civilian casualties, including children, he said: “The indiscriminate launching of rockets by Hamas and other groups at Israeli civilians is unacceptable. While acknowledging the Israel’s legitimate need to protect its civilian population, this response must be proportionate and with maximum restraint in the use of force.
“The EU calls for an immediate end to the ongoing violence. I am in contact with the parties concerned in the region and with the international community, including through the Middle East Quartet, to defuse the situation in priority.”
Other European leaders have also expressed their concern over the conflict and called for calm. “Very worried about the recent upsurge in violence and indiscriminate targeting. The priority must be de-escalation and prevention of the loss of innocent civilian lives on both sides,” European Council President Charles Michel tweeted on Wednesday.
But in addition to issuing statements, can or will the EU have a tangible impact on resolving this outbreak or the broader decades-old conflict? Euronews examined Europe’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian saga to date and wondered if the bloc could play a role in defusing the situation.
How have different EU countries responded to the outbreak?
European capitals tend to have different, sometimes contradictory, views on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. This could be seen in the early and divergent tone of the reactions of some states to the latest wave of violence.
Germany has long been one of Israel’s closest allies in Europe. “The rocket attack on Israel is absolutely unacceptable and must stop immediately,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass. “Israel has the right to defend itself. This escalation of violence cannot be tolerated or accepted.”
France, for its part, has adopted a more balanced approach. The foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns” the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip “in violation of international law” while denouncing the forced evictions of residents of East Jerusalem as “illegal”.
“Those who say that it is an Israeli aggression against Palestine or the other way round are wrong,” French Deputy Foreign Minister Clément Beaune told French television.
He added that the United States, as Israel’s closest ally, must get involved more effectively: “It is clear that it is they who still have the main diplomatic command, even if Europe must be more present “.
In recent years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also sought closer ties with Eastern European countries keen to provide strong support to Israel, even as the governments of some countries in the Visegrád group are accused of ‘stir up anti-Semitism among them.
As a result, when the US administration under President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania blocked an EU statement criticizing the move.
What has been the traditional role of the EU?
The EU has long been a staunch supporter of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a position that Hugh Lovatt, political member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, hopes to maintain for the foreseeable future.
“The EU is steadfast in its support not only for two states, but for [mid-1990s peace agreements] the Oslo accords and the peace process, ”he said.
Regarding the latest outbreak, he added: “It is difficult to achieve a unified EU-wide position – it has been for years – but the statement issued on behalf of Borrell, I think, was one of the best come out internationally. “
Nonetheless, Lovatt does not expect the EU to play an active role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the coming days or weeks, in line with its relatively small position in the past and during the 2014 war.
“The EU has limited added value in terms of escalation and de-escalation in Gaza,” he said. “It is to a certain extent the fact of the EU because it refuses to have contact with Hamas.
“Those who play a mediating role are those who have contacts: Egypt, Qatar and the UN. There is no shortage of mediators, and this limited role is one that the EU has gladly assumed.”
Instead, although no formal meeting to discuss this has yet taken place, the EU should intervene in the form of humanitarian aid to Gaza during the conflict or after its appeasement.
The EU is the Palestinian Authority’s largest donor and, since 2000, the European Commission has provided € 700 million in humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, according to local EU representation.
“It is a role in which the EU has felt much more comfortable: as a provider of funding and humanitarian delivery,” said Lovatt.
“After every conflict in Gaza, there is always a conference to support redevelopment and reconstruction. The EU has always proven its willingness to provide support and is one of the few actors to keep its promises.
“This would be, I suppose, the most natural European response to this conflict – even if, in my opinion, it is insufficient because humanitarian aid is a kind of band-aid.”