New violence in the Middle East poses a threat to Israel – EU unable to position itself

The Abraham Accords don’t keep what Donald Trump promised. In September 2020, he, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed treaties in the garden of the White House to normalize relations between the two Arab states with Israel. The agreements, Trump also spoke of a “deal of the century”, nurtured the illusion that the conflict between Israel and the Arabs had ended and been decided in Israel’s favor.

The agreements create business opportunities, but they do not bring peace. Because they do nothing to change the core issues of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. For example: How long are the settlers still allowed to (mostly illegally) claim land and houses from Palestinians? When and how does Israel allow the people in the densely populated Gaza Strip, which is cordoned off on all sides, a perspective so that it is no longer a poor house and thus a breeding ground for violence?

The recent outbreak of violence comes as no surprise. However, “International Crisis Group” rates the fact that the violence is escalating on several fronts at the same time for the first time as “extremely serious”: between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli army in East Jerusalem, and for the first time in cities of Israel where Jewish and Arab Israelis are located and lived together peacefully so far. In the latest round of violence, Jewish Israelis learn that they are not safe in their own country either. It is worrying that cities like Lod and Akko have become war zones. In addition, Hamas missiles are now reaching distant targets, and they are firing far more missiles than in previous conflicts – which Israel reliably replies with massive retaliation.

The current conflict was not sparked by tensions between Hamas and the Israeli army. Rather, incidents in Jerusalem since mid-April have created the current explosive situation. First, the Israeli police closed the Damascus Gate with barricades for the Palestinian residents; their protests attracted extremist Jewish Israelis who chanted “death to the Arabs”. Then, the Supreme Court approved the expropriation and eviction of Arab homes in East Jerusalem, sparking new clashes. Eventually, police blocked access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, fueling tension and leading to violent clashes even inside the mosque. That was the reason for Hamas’ “ultimatum” to Israel and the start of their attacks.

The key to resolving the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel lies in Jerusalem, but it is buried deep there. Because with the Temple Mount on which the Al-Aqsa Mosque stands, Jerusalem is holy to both Jews and Muslims. But there can be no compromise on the sacred, neither side will give in. There are also no solutions in sight for other aspects of the conflict. Previous Israeli governments committed themselves to a two-state solution, finding broad international support. But today, there is not enough space for a state of Palestine. In the West Bank, the core area of ​​a state of Palestine, 2.8 million Palestinians live there, but according to the Israeli organization “Peace Now”, there are also 441,000 Jews, who are determined to expand their settlements.

The human rights organization “Human Rights Watch” documents in a comprehensive report in April, with a wealth of examples, the systematic privileging of Jewish Israelis and the systematic discrimination against Palestinians. On the basis of norms of international law, it accuses Israel of a policy of apartheid and persecution. According to the current law, Israel is guilty of crimes against humanity, according to the authors. The Israeli State Law of 2018, for example, grants the right to self-determination only to Jewish people, it protects the Jewish settlements because of their “national value”. The Palestinians everywhere have fewer rights than the Jewish Israelis, are second-class citizens, whether in the territory of the State of Israel within the borders of 1967, in East Jerusalem, in the West Bank or in Gaza. In the West Bank, subject to Israeli military law, a third of the area that was once private Palestinian land has already been confiscated. New settlements are always emerging there.

Even if Palestine is not high on the agenda of many Arab governments, opinion polls show how important the question of Palestine is to most Arabs. In this conflict, too, the realization that one has to react robustly to violence in the short term is true. In the long term, however, one can only pull the bottom out of it through economic development and turn the downward spiral by giving people a perspective. More and more Palestinians have nothing to lose and therefore risk everything.

EU Palestinians’ main donor, Hungary blocks a joint declaration and unreservedly supports Israel

The EU foreign ministers discussed the situation in the Middle East for almost four hours on Tuesday at a hastily convened special conference. In the end there was once again – disagreement. He could not speak for all 27 member states, said Foreign Representative Josep Borrell, adding that he found it “difficult to understand”. Hungary had stood up, not for the first time. For the other 26 states, the Spaniard summed up the “general direction of the debate” as follows: Condemn the rocket fire by Hamas. Israel has the right to defend itself against it. However, this must be done “proportionately and in accordance with international law”. There have been too many civilian casualties in the past few days. “That’s unacceptable,” said Borrell.

His wording came from a statement made by the EU ambassador to the United Nations on Sunday. Hungary had also rejected this, which is why the diplomat could only speak “on behalf of the European Union”, not on behalf of its member states – a subtle, but not entirely small, difference. The statement also contained a strong condemnation: “The EU reiterates its strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy,” it said, with particular reference to the barrier that does not follow the 1967 armistice line, the destruction of Palestinian houses and the displacement of Palestinians, when courts award their houses to Israelis. That used to be a EU consensus. Budapest pulled out of it. Of course, Viktor Orbán’s government is not the only one seeking proximity to Israel. Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic have also been thinking out loud about moving their embassies in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following the example of the United States under Donald Trump.

On the other side is a group of states that are critical of Israel, led by Luxembourg, Belgium, Ireland and Sweden. A year ago, these states threatened to recognize Palestine as a state, if Israel annexed large parts of the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened this in the election campaign. But then it turned out quite differently: Israel surprisingly made peace with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Nevertheless, the disagreement remained.

Germany traditionally takes a mediating position. For one thing, it stands firmly on Israel’s side when the country is attacked. Chancellor Angela Merkel put it in 2008 that Israel’s security is “part of Germany’s raison d’être”. On the other hand, Germany also insists on compliance with international law and rejects the Israeli settlement policy. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas held Hamas responsible for the current situation on Tuesday: “With its rocket terror, Hamas has deliberately escalated a situation that had previously been extremely tense, with terrible consequences for Israelis and also for the civilian population in Gaza.“ The top priority now is to silence the guns. That is why he spoke to his colleagues in Egypt and Qatar, “who have direct contacts with Hamas”. At the same time, he promised the civilian population in Gaza another forty million euros in aid.

For further diplomacy, Maas, like Borrell later, referred to the Middle East Quartet. The new EU special envoy for the Middle East peace process, Sven Koopmans, should expand his mediation efforts and travel to the region. Which also meant that the political backing was not enough for Borrell’s mission, which the Spaniard could well have imagined. Koopmans, the Dutch diplomat and former MP for the ruling VVD party, only took up this post earlier this month. He represents the EU in the Middle East Quartet founded in 2002, which also includes the United States, Russia and the United Nations. The panel had only recently been revived after being eclipsed under Trump and not making any statements since September 2018.

The EU’s common policy since 2001 has been to classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. At the end of April, the European Parliament urged that the EU Commission also actively prevent payments to individuals or non-governmental organizations who are connected to terrorism or politico-religious radicalization. The Commission is the main donor of both the Palestinian Authority and the UN Aid for Palestinian Refugees in the region. According to her own statements, she has spent almost 800 million euros on short-term humanitarian causes since 2000. The expenditure for long-term aid in the last financial framework, between 2014 and 2020, was 2.2 billion euros. If you convert the amounts into per capita payments, the EU does not give so much support to any other country.

Of course, most of the money goes to the autonomous authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas. Around 56,000 employees receive their salaries from a program into which the EU Commission and the member states contribute. The EU wants to build “effective and accountable institutions that are ready for statehood” – if a two-state solution is ever reached, to which the EU has previously felt obliged. The second big chunk are monthly cash payments to people in particular need in the autonomous areas. In 2018 that was around 117,000 families. These funds are also paid out through the National Authority.

In third place are aid and development programs that are coordinated with the authority. They affect, for example, the water supply, the education and health systems. Last year the EU provided around 23 million euros in emergency aid to Palestinians. The greater part of it flowed into the Gaza Strip. In the so-called C area of ​​the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel, although it should gradually be transferred to the Palestinians, the EU is also funding civil society organizations that provide legal support to the Palestinians. As a spokesman for the EU Commission of the F.A.Z. announced that Israel had not caused any damage to infrastructure funded by the EU in its retaliatory attacks in Gaza until Monday evening.

In 2000, the EU signed an association agreement with Israel that enables the free trade of industrial and agricultural products – if they do not come from Israeli settlements. However, the Association Council provided for in the agreement has not met since mid-2012 because there have been repeated tensions over Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians. The external representative Josep Borrell has not yet been able to end this blockade. The EU research program “Horizon” is also economically significant. In 2014, Israel was the first non-European country to join the multi-billion dollar program.

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