Following the unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israel, which resulted in the death of many Israelis and the subsequent hostage-taking of around two hundred people – Israelis and foreigners – the EU, as well as individual Member States, including Malta, condemned this attack and expressed support towards Israel and its people in their right to defend their homeland.
The conflict in the Middle East is a complex one, characterised by a web of interests, extremism, and a glaring lack of will to compromise.
In the aftermath of the attack and the following rush to condemn what had happened, the EU emerged as dysfunctional and disunited. First, Oliver Varhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, announced the suspension of aid to the Palestinians, a position only to be retracted a few hours later by the EU’s HRVP, Josep Borrell, downscaling the mater to an urgent review. This week, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, accompanied by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, visited Israel to express support to Israel and its people. However, the suspension announcement of aid and the visit itself drew the ire of some politicians within the European Parliament and in some Member States, some even calling for the removal of Commissioner Varhelyi, as it seems that the EU has been unresponsive to the plight of Palestinians.
In an attempt to win back some lost credibility and appear united in the face of the still-unfolding crisis, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for a European Council meeting via teleconference to discuss the situation. The meeting take place today, Tuesday, at 5.30pm Malta time.
European leaders are expected to focus on a number of issues, primarily the review of the funding provided to the Palestinians. The review will not affect the humanitarian aid the EU provides, which has now increased from €25 million to €75 million. They will also be discussing ways to avoid further escalation of violence, as other countries in the region are under pressure to support the Palestinians.
In the aftermath of the initial confusion and following pressure from Member States, the EU’s position became clearer. While it condemns Hamas’s attack without reservation, it rightly calls on Israel to exercise restraint and proportionality in its right to defend its homeland by abiding by international law. This is very important as, firstly, the EU has always been divided on the Middle East conflict. Secondly, the EU wants to avoid at all costs any disproportional response to the crisis by exacerbating the crisis even further, possibly forcing other regional actors to intervene.
The EU is also trembling at the fact that this conflict could spill over onto European soil. Terrorist attacks have already been reported in Northern France and in Belgium, while in Sweden, protestors have burned the Quran. The situation could become worse if Israel decides to continue to collectively punish the Palestinian people, which is in complete breach of international law.
The EU leaders will today also discuss how to revive the two-State solution prospect, that would see Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace and security in their own respective countries. The two-State solution has been elusive since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
The only path for both sides to start talking to each other once again is for both to be willing to make compromises. In a space that is limited and that has to accommodate both, compromises have to be made, as have been made in the past. This might be a tough pill to swallow for some. However, for compromises to be made, neither side can afford to be hijacked by extremist elements in their leadership.
Agenda highlights of the video conference of the members of the European Council, 17 October 2023: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/european-council/2023/10/17/