Israel’s actions against the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip are dividing the EU. At the summit in Brussels there is now a joint declaration.
The European Union is toughening its tone towards Israel in view of the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. At a summit in Brussels on Thursday evening, the heads of state and government of the member states called for ceasefires and protected corridors for safe aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip.
The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza is of grave concern, according to a summit statement on the Middle East conflict. Efforts for an international peace conference are supported.
“Civilians must be protected always and everywhere,” said EU Council President Charles Michel, referring to the situation in the Gaza Strip. Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo was even clearer. While he strongly condemned Hamas terror, he then said to Israel: “This is never an excuse for blocking an entire region. It can never be an excuse for blocking humanitarian aid. It can never be an excuse for to starve a population.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry initially declined to comment. When asked late on Thursday evening, a spokesman said that they might comment on this on Friday.
Dispute over calls for a ceasefire
There had already been a heated dispute in the EU before the summit over demands for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire for the Gaza Strip. Countries such as Germany, Austria and Hungary spoke out clearly against the EU publicly joining such calls. They argue that such a move is inappropriate given the ongoing terror of the Islamist Palestinian organization Hamas.
Countries such as Spain and Ireland, on the other hand, supported such a call because of the many civilian casualties in Israeli attacks on targets in the Gaza Strip. They argue that Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip clearly violates international law. Germany in particular is being quietly accused of not wanting to make appeals to Israel because of its Nazi past.
Accusation of double standards
Countries that are more supportive of the Palestinians’ concerns see it as a danger that the EU will make itself untrustworthy at the international level if it does not address possible violations of international law by Israel. This is especially true in light of the EU’s efforts to encourage countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia to cooperate more closely against Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
Top EU officials even maintain behind closed doors that Israel is bombing civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip indiscriminately and with little regard for civilians. According to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, 7,028 people have died so far and more than 18,000 are said to have been injured. Since the bloody Hamas attack on October 7th, Israel has suffered more than 1,400 deaths and around 4,000 injuries.
The compromise in the summit declaration is now not to call for a broad ceasefire, but to call for “humanitarian corridors and breaks for humanitarian purposes.” The use of the word “pauses” in the plural is intended to make it clear that the EU is not calling on Israel to stop the fight against Hamas with immediate effect and permanently. Countries like Germany and Hungary want to avoid this impression at all costs.
Right to self-defense with limits
Israel should take all necessary measures to ensure that what happened does not happen again, said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Brussels. Along with Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, he is one of the most uncompromising Israel supporters in the EU.
However, many EU partners see this differently and can also be read from the text of the final declaration. Israel’s right to defend itself is emphatically emphasized there – but with the caveat that this is done “in accordance with international law and international humanitarian law”. Accordingly, the use of civilians as human shields is a “particularly deplorable cruelty” but is no excuse for cutting off the Gaza Strip’s electricity and water supplies.
The increasing criticism of Israel’s counteroffensive is also made clear by the EU’s commitment to work closely with its partners in the region to also facilitate access to fuel. In doing so, it is clearly opposing the Israeli government, which has so far refused to allow the Gaza Strip to continue to be supplied with fuel for fear of abuse. The EU statement states that the EU will ensure that this aid is not misused by terrorist organizations.
Respect for international law: Scholz trusts Israel
European heads of state and government are particularly concerned about the possible consequences of an overly drastic response by Israel to Hamas’ terror. The manner of the response is important for the future security of the entire region – including that in the European Union, warned Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) also warned again against an expansion of the conflict, but was primarily aimed at Israel’s neighbors: “It shouldn’t happen that in the north, for example, Hezbollah enters the war with its own activities or Iran and his proxies are trying to intervene here, so to speak.”
Scholz countered fears that Israel could undermine international law in its actions against Hamas with very clear words. “Israel is a democratic state with very humanitarian principles guiding it,” he said. “And that’s why you can be sure that the Israeli army will also observe the rules of international law in what it does. I have no doubt about that.”
At the summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of the dangers for Europe of a conflagration in the Middle East. “The enemies of freedom are very interested in bringing the free world to a second front,” he said in a video address. “The sooner there is security in the Middle East, the sooner we will restore security here – in Europe.”
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.