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EU bitterly divided over Israel-Palestine response

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign polciy chief Josep Borrell. Credit: Getty

October 11, 2023 - 5:30pm

The war between Israel and Hamas has exacerbated long-running divisions between EU member states. Despite an effort to appear united in condemnation of the shock attack and atrocities committed, the bloc’s response has been a diplomatic shambles.  

A statement from European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi — nominated for his post by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, one of Europe’s most pro-Israel leaders — that aid for Palestine would be suspended in light of the attack was followed by a backlash from countries with more sympathy towards Palestine. The Commission proceeded to tie itself in knots over the issue, giving the impression that in Brussels the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. 

Clarification only came on Tuesday evening when the bloc’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell confirmed that payments to Palestine would not be stopped – apparently contradicting an earlier statement from the Commission suggesting that no payments were due anyway — and claimed that now “we have to support more, not less”. Borrell justified the continued flow of aid to Palestine by arguing that “the suspension of payments — punishing all of the Palestinian people — would have damaged the EU’s interests in the region and would have only further emboldened terrorists.” His claim was supported by European Council President Charles Michel, who said cutting off aid to Palestine “could be exploited by Hamas and exacerbate tensions and hatred”.  

The EU feels caught between a rock and a hard place. Continuing to supply aid runs the risk of indirectly funding terrorism — but cutting it off, it’s feared, could stoke resentment and lead to even greater levels of extremism. The response from Brussels is a limp resolve to stick with the status quo while launching an “urgent review” on whether funding may support terrorist groups. 

Similar indecisiveness also affected attempts to put together a joint EU statement in response to the Hamas attack. Countries including Ireland, Luxembourg and Denmark threatened to disrupt the bloc’s united front by calling for a reference to “de-escalation” — precisely the kind of equivocal rhetoric which previously earned countries such as Hungary strong international opprobrium over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Staunchly pro-Israel nations in Europe are all too familiar with frustration on this topic. Budapest has in the past refused to sign EU declarations on Israel-Palestine which it deemed wishy-washy and equivocal, a characteristic which Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó previously condemned as a “general problem with European statements on Israel”.  

Yet equivocation is hard to avoid in Brussels when EU politicians are so heavily influenced by the views of the conflict prevalent in their home nations. Positions taken by Commission figures during the shambolic back-and-forth over aid for Palestine, for example, correlate with the dominant political attitudes towards the conflict in commissioners’ home countries. After confirming that aid would continue to flow to Palestine, Borrell on Tuesday continued the EU’s tradition of equivocation by saying Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in response to the Hamas attack violates international law. 

As the EU’s diplomatic shambles has shown, the Israel-Palestine conflict is an issue which casts aspirations for ever-closer union on foreign and security policy in a painfully harsh light. The bloc is ideally placed to wield influence in the region, as Israel’s largest trading partner and the biggest supplier of aid to Palestine — but it remains hamstrung by uncertainty and internal division.


William Nattrass is a British journalist based in Prague and news editor of Expats.cz

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Mike Downing
MD
Mike Downing
6 months ago

We propped up Mugabe for years; he wrecked the country and blamed it on colonialism (the new ‘C’ word), while we sent aid to ameliorate the effects of his awful behaviour.

I know these problems are very complex but I can’t help feeling that queasy flip-flopping of this sort invariably emboldens groups like Hamas who can let public opinion in our countries do most of the heavy lifting for them.

At some stage, you have to have the stomach to say ‘no’.

Last edited 6 months ago by Mike Downing
John Tyler
JT
John Tyler
6 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Totally agree! Queasy flip-flopping, as you call it, is much the same as appeasement, which has and will always be a self-damaging strategy. Politicians (and the wider liberal elite) need to recognise that evil exists and needs to be treated like a cancer: deal with it before it grows and spreads. Hamas has always been an evil organisation, dedicated to killing Jews and imposing its own fascist/religious philosophy through brute force.

Carl Buzawa
Carl Buzawa
6 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

The analogy to cancer is valid. While there are many causes for terrorism as there are causes for cancer at some point when it is evident then you cut it out. When Hamas beheads babies and rapes and abducts women and children this is not the time to debate causality or responsibility. Kill it and then be more than magnanimous to the people themselves.

If not, this terror will never end since I can’t see Israel dissolving or the Palestinians “winning” not under these conditions can I see Iran not backing terror

Claire M
CM
Claire M
6 months ago
Reply to  Carl Buzawa

The baby beheading trope has been exposed as fake news – just saying…

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
6 months ago
Reply to  Claire M

But shooting babies is fine with you?

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
6 months ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

Odd inference to draw from a straightforward remark about rumour vs news.

Kent Ausburn
KA
Kent Ausburn
6 months ago
Reply to  Claire M

No, it hasn’t.

P Branagan
P Branagan
6 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Hamas is evil. Israel is evil. The US is evil. The UK is evil. You are evil. I am evil.
Best those red buttons be pressed soonest.
Give Gaia another go at evolving a species somewhat less evil than us humans.

starkbreath
starkbreath
6 months ago
Reply to  P Branagan

Please spare the rest of us your hand-wringing virtuousness. If everyone including yourself is just flat-out evil, why do you continue to exist?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Also “could be exploited by Hamas and exacerbate tensions and hatred”
After what we have witnessed how could tensions and hatreds be exacerbated by cutting aid?
“Continuing to supply aid runs the risk of indirectly funding terrorism — but cutting it off, it’s feared, could stoke resentment and lead to even greater levels of extremism”.
All aid to conflict zones funds terrorism whether it allows resources that would otherwise have to be used to purchase food and medicine to be used to buy munitions and pay fighters or whether the aid is simply stolen and sold (often to the intended recipients) to buy weapons. If people knew how much aid was stolen and sold to fund continued conflict they would stop giving and the charities who cover this up would be run out of town.
Try cutting off the power, water and food for 3 months and see how long the fighting lasts

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
6 months ago

I would have thought that sponsoring terrorism by supplying aid also violated international law?

Phil Gough
Phil Gough
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

Denying water food and power to a civilian population definitely is.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
6 months ago
Reply to  Phil Gough

Is a siege of a city now illegal? If the besieger allows civilians to exit or first offers reasonable terms of surrender?
I would like to see the specific treaties that apply.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago
Reply to  Phil Gough

Is that not what we did to the Germans, twice

Right-Wing Hippie
RH
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

Only if you supply aid to the wrong terrorists.

Iris C
Iris C
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

Exactly! Hamas is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Western nations. It should also be remembered that Hamas is the dominated political party in Gaza.

Kirk Susong
KS
Kirk Susong
6 months ago

“Continuing to supply aid runs the risk of indirectly funding terrorism — but cutting it off, it’s feared, could stoke resentment and lead to even greater levels of extremism.”
The EU claims it is worried that if it withdrew aid from Palestine it would increase terrorism… but funding Palestinians has already resulted in terrorism. You would think the EU would stop doing the thing it is doing (funding Palestinians) that has resulted in the flourishing of these various terror organizations.
I am wary of ‘anti-Semitism’ as a catch-all explanation, but it is hard to understand how the EU can see moral equivalences between a liberal, free market, democracy with functioning institutions, rule of law and other civic norms, and factional cabals which operate on corruption, religious intolerance, and random acts of terror.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

If they continue to supply aid, they’ll encourage terrorism; if they cut off aid, they’ll also encourage terrorism. So they should cut off aid, which will achieve the same aim of encouraging terrorism, but at a discount.

Anna Bramwell
AB
Anna Bramwell
6 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

You dont often read of terrorists identifying as Palestinian, do you? And this approach ‘pay them to like us’ has not been very successful.

Arthur G
Arthur G
6 months ago

Isn’t it funny that the countries and people the Leftists love to call “fascist” and “Nazi” are the ones the most strongly back Israel? The people who call everyone else “Nazis” are the ones supporting the group that literally intends genocide against the Jewish people.

You can’t make up stuff like this.

Last edited 6 months ago by Arthur G
Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
6 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

I believe this phenomenon is known as DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. Typically nowadays the thugs who call themselves Antifa actually wear black shirts, as if daring anyone to notice.

Right-Wing Hippie
RH
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago

‘It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: –
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.’

Samuel Ross
SR
Samuel Ross
6 months ago

If donating billions to Hamas over the last 20 years resulted in this massacre, then maybe doing something different might effect a different result? Apparently too obvious for our clueless European leaders, who like paying their taxpayers’ dollars to murderous terrorist scum.

Benedict Waterson
BW
Benedict Waterson
6 months ago

Might have thought that recent events perfectly illustrate why Israel needs to blockade the Gaza strip, but nevermind

Adam Bacon
AB
Adam Bacon
6 months ago

It pretty much does that already economically, though clearly, militarily, far less effectively than it believed.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
6 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

You’ve got that back to front, Adam. In recent years, Israeli control over cross-border economic factors has been markedly reduced as Netanyahu, distracted by internal constitutional wrangling, thought that Hamas would be loath to reverse increasing quality of life in Gaza.
Same mistake that Germany made with Putin but less explicable.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
6 months ago

statement from European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi — nominated for his post by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, one of Europe’s most pro-Israel leaders — that aid for Palestine would be suspended in light of the attack was followed by a backlash from countries with more sympathy towards Palestine hatred of Jews.”

Carlos Danger
CD
Carlos Danger
6 months ago

People always expect clean, simple solutions to messy, complex problems. There aren’t any. As economist Thomas Sowell likes to say, “there are no solutions, only trade-offs”.
We see that in Israel, a country which seeks peace but can’t seem to stop itself from building illegal settlements in Palestinian territory. We see that in Ukraine, a country which seeks peace but can’t seem to stop itself from twisting Russia’s tail and persecuting ethnic Russians.
Despite his major flaws, Donald Trump is a master at finding a way to make deals in difficult circumstances like these. Too bad we have instead Joe Biden, who couldn’t make a deal to save his life.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
6 months ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

Indeed – as no-one can genuinely claim the Middle East high ground, you will never get a unified opinion from “sham” political groupings like the EU.

Last edited 6 months ago by Ian Barton
Will K
WK
Will K
6 months ago

Mr Biden stated the US position clearly: Israel good, Palestine evil. But Mr Biden is not competent.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
6 months ago

The EU is a shambles on everything…it is in knots over free movement…distributing migrants…Ukraine…Hamas… it’s hopeless. It’s like a fair weather, nice day lifeboat service that can’t go out in stormy weather…useless.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
6 months ago

Maybe the EU is ambivalent because this is a very complicated issue both as.to morality and interests?

R Wright
R Wright
6 months ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

Or maybe the EU is ambivalent because its leadership is comprised of technocratic boomers out of touch with public opinion.

Carlos Danger
CD
Carlos Danger
6 months ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

There are certainly complicated issues involved in the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, just like there were complicated issues involved in the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attack on the United States. The European Union should measure its response, just as the United States should never have invaded and occupied Afghanistan in response to al Qaeda’s attack.
But the European Union’s response must not be to treat this terrorist attack as an act of war. Instead, it must condemn the attack as crimes against humanity not justified by anything Israel has done. And any aid should be limited humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza and not aid to Hamas. That response should quick and without equivocation.

Last edited 6 months ago by Carlos Danger
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
6 months ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

Are you willing to stand on the back of a truck in Gaza and no food for you to a man carrying a weapon?

Doug Pingel
DP
Doug Pingel
6 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

The sysrem wouldn’t let me ‘edit’ so please read…. “in Gaza and say “No food for you” to a man….

starkbreath
SL
starkbreath
6 months ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

Or maybe they’re a bunch of gutless, useless, incompetent technocrats interested in nothing but expanding their power? The UK did the right thing, too bad no other countries have followed their example.

Last edited 6 months ago by starkbreath