Time For EU To Show Some Backbone And Stand Up To Israel – OpEd


The EU largely stayed silent when Israel began pounding the besieged Gaza Strip with the kind of ferocity that could only lead to genocide. In fact, it remained silent even when the word “genocide” quickly replaced the earlier reference to the “Israel-Hamas war,” starting on Oct. 7.

Those familiar with the EU’s political discourse and actions regarding Israel and Palestine must already realize that most of its governments have always been on the side of Israel. However, if this is true, what can we make of last week’s comments by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, when he seemed to lash out at Israel, accusing it of “seeding hate for generations?” During a joint press conference in Brussels with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, Borrell said: “Israel cannot have the veto right to the self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

But is Borrell being genuine? His frustration with Tel Aviv stems from the realization that Israel does not take the bloc seriously. He is right. Tel Aviv has never truly seen Brussels as a strong and relevant political actor in comparison to Washington, or even London. Recent months have further exposed this unequal relationship.

Soon after the Al-Aqsa Flood operation, European leaders — starting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and French President Emmanuel Macron — flocked to Tel Aviv to, in the words of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, reiterate that “Israel has every right to defend itself.”

But European support exceeded that of language or political gestures. It also arrived in the form of military and intelligence support. “As of Nov. 2, the German government has approved the export of close to €303 million ($323 million) worth of defense equipment to Israel,” Reuters reported, comparing the large sum to the €32 million of defense exports that were approved by Berlin in all of 2022. This is just one example.

While the Americans did not shy away from assuming the role of partner in the Gaza war, the EU’s position seemed dishonest and, at best, morally inconsistent. For example, an enthusiastic Macron wanted to establish an anti-Daesh-like military coalition to target Hamas, while the leaders of Spain and Belgium jointly called for a permanent ceasefire during a press conference at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Nov. 24.

Borrell initially approached the genocidal war from an entirely pro-Israeli perspective. “I am not a lawyer,” he said, when asked in an interview last November whether Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza. A minute later, he asserted that Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood operation was undoubtedly a war crime.

This is not a simple case of Western double standards. Israel sees the EU as a lackey, even though the bloc, collectively, carries significant economic weight. However, in the case of Israel, it refuses to translate this into political leverage. Until Brussels learns to resolve this dichotomy, it will continue with this kind of bizarre foreign policy.

One reason Israel sees the EU as an inferior political actor compared to Washington is because the Europeans have linked much of their foreign policy agenda to America’s, which is, in turn, motivated by Tel Aviv’s agenda and interests.

This is how it works. When Macron joined Biden in unconditionally supporting Israel at the beginning of the war, Netanyahu remarked that he was “highly appreciative” of the French position. But when, in November, Macron dared criticize Israel’s killing of women and babies in Gaza, Netanyahu immediately lashed out, accusing Macron of making “a serious mistake, factually and morally.”

Slowly, the EU began developing a somewhat stronger position on Gaza, though certainly not strong enough to demand an end to the war or to threaten consequences.

Last week, it held a ministerial meeting, inviting Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Palestinian counterpart Riyad Al-Maliki to attend. The conference was a feeble attempt to signal the EU’s readiness to assert itself as a relevant political actor in the Middle East. The truth, however, is that the bloc was motivated by other factors, including a green light from the Biden administration, which has grown more frustrated with Netanyahu for refusing to engage in Washington’s discourse about future visions and a two-state solution.

Also, the regional instability, whether in the Red Sea or in Lebanon — itself a result of the Gaza war — continues to pose a direct risk to Europe’s economic and strategic interests.

The EU’s relationship with the Middle East is, in some ways, different to that of Washington. While the US is always ready to reinvent its geopolitical priorities, Brussels is indefinitely bound by the rules of physical proximity to the region — its vital geography, its resources and its people. It knows this. Borrell, who devised the maxim that “Europe is a garden” but “the rest of the world is a jungle” and the “jungle could invade the garden,” understands that the instability of the Middle East could endanger his precious “garden,” even when the war is over.

This is why Borrell was keen on the EU’s ministerial meeting. But instead of engaging in serious talks, the meeting further highlighted the bloc’s irrelevance, at least in the eyes of Israel.

Katz went to the meeting to present plans for an artificial island off the coast of Gaza — likely to displace Palestinians from the Strip — and a railway to India. “I think the minister could have made better use of his time,” Borrell said. Other top EU diplomats said the videos were part of old ideas presented by Katz in a previous role, while they “surprised” others in the room.

But the EU diplomats should not be surprised. After all, their governments are the ones that have empowered Israel and disempowered Palestinians over the years. Even now, many of them continue to champion Israel’s mass killings in Gaza as Tel Aviv’s right to self-defense.

If Borrell truly wishes to develop a political backbone, he should fully back international law and advocate for the use of the EU’s massive economic leverage to put pressure on Israel to end its war and its military occupation of Palestine. Failing to do so gives greater credibility to the claim that Brussels, just like Washington, is a direct partner in the Israeli war on the Palestinian people.

Ramzy Baroud

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com

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