Israel received a strong backwind from an unlikely source on Tuesday, when the EU issued a statement strongly denouncing Hamas and condemning their use of civilians as human shields.
The EU’s foreign ministers, following a monthly meeting in Brussels, issued a statement on the Middle East condemning “the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza Strip, directly harming civilians. These are criminal and unjustifiable acts.”
The statement also called on Hamas to put an immediate end to its rocket attacks and to renounce violence.
“All terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm,” it said. “The EU strongly condemns calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.”
Regarding civilian losses inside the Gaza Strip, the statement “condemns the loss of hundreds of civilian lives, among them many women and children.”
“While recognizing Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks, the EU underlines that the Israeli military operation must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law,” it read.
The statement said the EU was “particularly appalled by the human cost” of the operation in Shejaia and was “deeply concerned at the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.”
The foreign ministers called on all sides to implement a cease-fire immediately.
One senior diplomatic official said that Israel was pleased with the statement, even though after dealing with the Gaza situation, it went on to repeat the EU’s well-known position regarding a two-state solution, settlements and negotiations.
The elements about Hamas, the official said, were nothing short of “dramatic.” He said that it was no small thing for the EU to call Hamas’s actions “criminal” and say Hamas needed to disarm.
Even in the paragraph condemning the loss of civilian lives, the official pointed out that the EU called on Israel to act proportionally, but did not say it was not doing so – an important matter of diplomatic nuance.
Some countries wanted to see Israel condemned for acting “disproportionately,” the official said, without naming names. He did say, however, that Germany, Britain, the Czech Republic and Holland were instrumental in getting the favorable language of the statement approved.
The Foreign Ministry issued a communique expressing “satisfaction” with the EU statement.
“These statements of the EU are consistent with the concepts that guide Israel in its struggle against terrorism, and opens the door to implementing these common principles to restore quiet and security,” it said.
Not everything in the rest of the statement that dealt with the diplomatic process found favor in Jerusalem, however.
But, as the senior diplomatic official said, “what is good in the statement is new and dramatic, and what is not good is old and was expected.”
On other Israeli-Palestinian issues, the statement strongly condemned “the abduction and brutal murder of teenagers from both sides. The perpetrators of these barbaric acts must be brought to justice.”
The statement said that the “tragic events of the past weeks reinforce the need for Israelis and Palestinians to work together to fight all forms of terror and violence and to combat incitement.”
The European foreign ministers urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume meaningful negotiations, saying that “the only way to resolve the conflict is through an agreement that ends the occupation which began in 1967, that ends all claims and that fulfills the aspirations of both parties. A one-state reality would not be compatible with these aspirations.”
One Israeli official pointed out that the EU, when referring to the need to find a solution to the refugee question, said it must be “just, fair, agreed and realistic.” The addition of the word “realistic,” he said, was diplomatically significant.
Hawkish Likud MK Danny Danon issued rare praise for the EU and UN due to their condemnation of Hamas.
“I am happy to see that Israel’s regular critics in the EU and UN understand, albeit too late, that Hamas is the problem, not the solution, and that the only way to defeat terror is to fight it, not embrace it,” he said.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.