BRUSSELS – European Union foreign ministers called for an overwhelming majority for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in an emergency meeting on Tuesday, according to the bloc’s foreign policy chief , Josep Borrell Fontelles.
All member states except Hungary supported a statement condemning the Hamas rocket attacks and supporting Israel’s right to self-defense, but also warned that this must be done proportionately and in accordance with international humanitarian law, said Mr Borrell. at a press conference.
He said the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, “including a high number of women and children”, was “unacceptable”. And he said that the European Union, as part of the quartet with the United States, Russia and the United Nations seeking peace in the Middle East will push to relaunch a serious diplomatic process.
“The priority is the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a ceasefire,” Borrell said. The European Union’s foreign policy operates unanimously, so Mr Borrell’s comments, despite opposition from Hungary, were an effort, he said, “to reflect the overall agreement. “.
While views of the European Union are unlikely to influence Israel, which views the bloc in general as pro-Palestinian, the statement comes a day after President Biden expressed support for a ceasefire. fire and suggests growing unease over the growing number of civilian casualties.
Israel also tends to give more weight to what Germany and France say, and the leaders there have both come out more strongly that the bloodshed must stop.
Germany and France have also moved up a diplomatic gear. The Germans – who generally support Israel – are trying to push it towards a ceasefire. France, which has some influence over Egypt, is trying to persuade its leaders to urge Hamas to end its rocket attacks.
In general, European governments have supported Israel and its right to self-defense against rocket barrages targeting Israeli civilians. Yet as the fighting continues, major European countries are pushing for an early ceasefire.
Germany has traditionally been a staunch supporter of Israel. On Monday, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, German Chancellor Angela Merkel “once again strongly condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel and assured the Prime Minister of the solidarity of the German government” , said spokesperson Steffen Seibert. “She reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against attack.”
But given the many civilian lives lost “on both sides,” Seibert said, “the Chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”
Merkel also held talks with King Abdullah of Jordan on Tuesday, and “both agreed that initiatives for an early ceasefire should be supported in order to create the conditions for the resumption of political negotiations,” said Mr. Seibert.
Ahead of Tuesday’s EU meeting, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that “for now, ending violence in the Middle East is the top priority. But we also need to discuss how to avoid such an escalation in the future. ”
Mr Maas added that the European Union “has a role to play here”, both in terms of political and humanitarian action. Germany has pledged 40 million euros, or about $ 49 million, for humanitarian aid to Gazans.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Germans, like the British, have also witnessed a number of protests against Israel’s military actions, some of which are openly anti-Semitic.
France, the only permanent member of the EU Security Council, has also pushed for an early ceasefire. French President Emmanuel Macron told a press conference on Monday that “there needs to be a ceasefire process as quickly as possible and the construction of a possible channel for discussions between the various protagonists.”
Mr Macron said he was having discussions with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and King Abdullah “to be able to see together how we make a concrete proposal”. It is “absolutely necessary” to end hostilities, he said.
Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, said in an interview that Israel was granted a high degree of legitimacy and leeway last week by some world leaders after Hamas began firing rockets to Jerusalem and other cities on May 10.
This position recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens by neutralizing fire from Gaza and providing deterrence, he said. But that could change now that the conflict has entered its second week, he added.
“People are still worried that it will escalate further,” Issacharoff said. Merkel had been “very supportive” of Israel when she met with Netanyahu on Monday and also “expressed hope to end hostilities as soon as possible,” he said.
France, the only EU member on the UN Security Council, has also pushed for an early ceasefire. Mr Macron said on Monday that “there must be a ceasefire process as quickly as possible and the construction of a possible path towards discussions between the various protagonists.”
He and Mr. al-Sisi agreed that it was “absolutely necessary” to end hostilities, according to Mr. Macron’s office, adding that the president had renewed his support for Egypt’s mediation efforts.
Last week, Macron spoke with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas. But Mr. Macron was unable to call Mr. Netanyahu on the phone last Thursday because the Israeli leader “was not available for a phone call that day,” according to Mr. Macron’s office. The two spoke on Friday.
The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has also engaged with his American, Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts.
Mr Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, issued statements on his own calling on Hamas to stop firing rockets and on Israel “to act proportionately and avoid civilian casualties.”
But the European Union is divided as usual. Even during Sunday’s Security Council debate, the statement by the EU representative could not be released on behalf of member states because Hungary, which is strongly pro-Israel, opposed it.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto criticized the EU’s statements on Israel as unnecessary. “These are generally very one-sided, and these statements do not help, especially not under the current circumstances, when the tension is so high,” he told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Other European member states, such as Austria, Bulgaria and Romania, also strongly support Israel, while countries like Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden are more critical of Israeli military responses and the expansion of settlements in occupied territory.
Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said on Monday that the main objective was to end the military conflict. In general, he reiterated that the European Union considered Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as illegal and that Brussels had called for reconsideration and restraint on threats to expel Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
“The representatives of the European public, the foreign ministers in this case, are trying to face the situation and find the best possible contribution from the EU to defuse and stop the violence,” he said. . “And I think that’s it. I can only repeat that of course the casualties are unacceptable.
Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.