European foreign ministers fail to reach consensus on Gaza violence

The continent has been anything but unified on the situation that unfolded on the Israel-Gaza border this spring.

May 29, 2018 06:20
3 minute read.

EU ministers discuss Gaza, May 28, 2018 (Reuters)

EU ministers discuss Gaza, May 28, 2018 (Reuters)


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European foreign ministers discussed the situation in Gaza during a “working lunch” at their monthly meeting in Brussels on Monday. But they did not release a statement on the matter, a sign of a lack of consensus on the issue.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, whose country has been among the most critical of Israel’s actions to prevent a breach of the Gaza fence during the recent riots there, said before the meeting that he initiated the discussion on Gaza because “I am deeply concerned about the force used against protesters, and I will discuss with my fellow ministers how we might work towards breaking the cycle of violence and improving conditions for people living in Gaza.”

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, in comments she made before the meeting, linked the developments in Gaza to the US Embassy move to Jerusalem, something the EU adamantly opposed.

“We warned that political moves might have broad consequences, and unfortunately we have proven to be right,” she said. “We would have preferred not to be right in this occasion.”

But Coveney’s and Mogherini’s statements do not reflect the opinion of all the 28 EU-member states, with Czech Republic Foreign Minister Martin Stropnický issuing a statement last week saying the violence in Gaza on May 14 that led to the deaths of 61 Palestinians had nothing to do with the US Embassy move, and rushing the security fence should be regarded as a form of terrorism.

Differences of opinion inside the EU regarding how to view the events in Gaza were on display earlier in the month as well, when the UN Human Rights Commission voted to establish a commission of inquiry. In that vote, which passed 29-2, with 14 abstentions and two no-shows, three EU countries voted for the measure, Spain, Slovenia and Belgium, while five abstained,Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

Earlier this month, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic blocked a EU statement against the move of the US Embassy, and other countries, including Slovakia, Greece and Poland, reportedly also expressed reservations.

Following the meeting, Mogherini said at a press conference there was a “complete unity of views” among the countries to act immediately to avoid further loss of life in Gaza and provide humanitarian aid to the coastal strip. She said there also was unity regarding the need for a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Mogherini said the ministers discussed the need for a political horizon, adding that the tension in Gaza erupted “in the context” of both a lack of a political process and the US Embassy move.

Ahead of the EU meeting, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote in a letter to EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret that European Union foreign ministers should think about how their government would respond to violent riots on their borders.

“It is time for the EU to take a principled stance in support of the State of Israel and our basic right to self-defense,” he wrote.

Military leaders in the EU would undoubtedly act similarly to the way the IDF behaved to ensure national security and sovereignty, Lapid wrote.

Lapid sought to remind Giaufret of “key facts” about the situation, such as that Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005 but left behind 3,000 greenhouses to help the Gazans build their economy. However, those were destroyed, Gazans elected Hamas as their leaders, and in the ensuing 11 years they fired more than 15,000 rockets at Israeli civilians.

“The Hamas charter repeatedly calls for the genocide of the Jews, and these riots were another element in Hamas’ attempts to destroy the State of Israel,” Lapid wrote.

Regarding the military blockade of Gaza, Lapid said it “could be lifted quickly and easily if Hamas, an EU-designated terror organization, abandoned terrorism and committed itself to living side by side with Israel.”

Lapid pointed out that the majority of those killed in the riots were members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“They weren’t nonviolent demonstrators, but rather armed terror cells embedded into a civilian population trying to breach the border,” he wrote. “We should be clear that what happened on May 14th was an attempt by Hamas to carry out multiple acts of terror while hiding behind human shields. It was Hamas which instigated the violence and did everything to drive up the death toll.”

“In stark contrast, the IDF acted with professionalism and restraint in an almost impossible situation,” Lapid wrote.

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