The EU”s top diplomat has demanded an immediate end to ongoing violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories amid a fourth night of rocket attacks and devastating airstrikes.
At least 69 people have now been killed in the Gaza Strip since violence ramped up on Monday, according to the Health Ministry, while medical officials said seven people have been killed in Israel.
Thousands of Israelis spent Wednesday night in air raid shelters amid rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, while mob violence broke out in mixed Israeli towns, with Arab and Israeli businesses looted and burned.
On Tuesday, the EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell had demanded the chaos be brought to an end. “The grave escalation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the major upsurge in violence in and around Gaza, must stop,” he said in an official statement.
Adding that the EU was “dismayed” at the number of civilian casualties reported, including children, he said: “The indiscriminate launching of rockets from Hamas and other groups towards Israeli civilians is unacceptable. While recognising Israel’s legitimate need to protect its civilian population, this response needs to 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 relevant parties in the region and with the international community, including through the Middle East Quartet, to de-escalate the situation as a matter of priority.”
Other European leaders have also expressed alarm at the conflict and called for calm. “Very worried by the recent upsurge of violence and indiscriminate targeting. Priority should be de-escalation and prevention of the loss of innocent civilian lives on both sides,” tweeted European Council President Charles Michel on Wednesday.
But aside from issuing statements, can or will the EU have a tangible impact in addressing this flare-up or the wider, decades-old conflict? Euronews examined Europe’s approach to the Israel-Palestine saga to date and asked whether the bloc might play a role in defusing the situation.
How have different EU countries responded to the flare-up?
European capitals tend to have varying, sometimes conflicting views on the Israel-Palestine situation. This could be seen in the early, divergent tone of some individual states’ reactions to the latest surge of violence.
Germany has long been one of Israel’s closest allies in Europe. “The rocket attack on Israel is absolutely unacceptable and must end immediately,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said. “Israel has the right to self-defence. This escalation of violence can be neither tolerated nor accepted.”
France, meanwhile, took a more balanced approach. The Foreign Ministry said it “strongly condemned” rocket fire from the Gaza Strip “in violation of international law” while also denouncing the forced evictions of residents in East Jerusalem as “illegal.”
“Those who say that it is an Israeli aggression against Palestine or the other way around are wrong,” said French Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Clément Beaune, on French television.
He added that the U.S. as Israel’s closest ally must involve itself more effectively: “It is clear that they are the ones who still have the main diplomatic command, even if Europe must be more present.”
In recent years, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has also sought closer ties with Eastern European nations willing to provide strong backing to Israel, even as the governments of some Visegrád Group countries face accusations of stoking antisemitism at home.
As a result, when the US administration under President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania blocked an EU statement criticising the decision.
What has the EU’s role traditionally been?
The EU has long been a staunch supporter of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a position that Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, expects to be maintained for the foreseeable future.
“The EU is unwavering in its support for not just two states but for [mid-1990s peace agreements] the Oslo Accords and the peace process,” he said.
With regard to the latest flare-up, he added: “It’s difficult to come up with a unified European Union-wide position – that has been the case for years – but the statement put out in Borrell’s name, I think, was one of the better ones put out internationally.”
Nonetheless, Lovatt does not expect the EU to take an active role in mediation between Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the coming days or weeks, in keeping with its relatively restrained position in the past and during the war of 2014.
“The EU has limited added value when it comes to escalation and de-escalation in Gaza,” he said. “This is to an extent of the EU’s own making because it refuses to have contact with Hamas.
“Those that play a mediating role are those that have contact: Egypt, Qatar and the UN. There’s no shortage of mediators, and this limited role is one the EU has willingly embraced.”
Instead, although no formal meetings to discuss this have yet taken place, the EU is expected to intervene in the form of humanitarian aid to Gaza either during the conflict or after it subsides.
The EU is the largest single donor to the Palestinian Authority, and since 2000, the European Commission has provided €700 million of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, according to the local EU representation.
“This is a role the EU has felt much more comfortable in: as a provider of funding and humanitarian provision,” Lovatt said.
“After every conflict in Gaza there’s always a conference to support redevelopment and reconstruction. The EU has always proved its willingness to provide support and is one of the few actors that actually delivers on its promises.
“That, I expect, would be the more natural European response to this conflict – even if, in my view, it’s insufficient as humanitarian aid is a sort of band-aid.”