EU’s “difficult” choice: support rule of law or Israel?

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 25th May 2024.

The European Union must define its stance on the International Court of Justice’s call on Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has said. Speaking during a European University Institute (EUI) event in Florence, just minutes after the ICJ ruled Israeli forces should halt their offensive in Rafah, Borrell said the bloc faces a “difficult” choice between its support for the rule of law and its support for Israel.

“Which is going to be our position?” he asked. “We will have to choose between our support to the international institutions and the rule of law, or our support to Israel, and both things are going to be quite difficult to make compatible,” he added. Borrell also acknowledged that the EU’s decision-making when it came to its response to the war in Gaza had been too sluggish due to deep rifts between EU capitals’ stance on the conflict. He called for a change to the EU’s decision-making processes on foreign policy, which requires the unanimous backing of all 27 leaders.

Hungary has notably blocked or delayed key EU initiatives in response to the war, including sanctions on violent Israeli settlers as well as a joint communication calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon plans to invade Rafah.

Borrell’s opening speech was also interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters who slammed the EU’s response to the devastation and loss of life in Gaza, to whom the EU’s top diplomat responded: “I understand perfectly the concern being expressed.”

Recognition of Palestine is ‘contrary’ to supporting terrorism

Reacting to the scathing Israeli criticism of Spain, Ireland, and Norway’s decision to recognise the State of Palestine, announced Wednesday, Borrell firmly rebuked foreign minister Israel Katz’s accusation that the move would send a message that “terrorism pays”. “For me one thing is clear, recognition is not supporting Hamas,” Borrell said. “And on that, I have to really contest the positions expressed by the Israeli government saying that recognition is a gift to Hamas, or supporting terrorism. Just on the contrary. It’s unfounded, completely unfounded and unacceptable to say that recognition – be or not counter-productive – is a matter of giving gifts to Hamas or expressing anti-Semitism, nothing of that.” Borrell affirmed that the recognition was designed to bolster the EU’s support to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, seen as a counter-movement to Hamas in the Palestinian territories. He described the Palestinian Authority as the “nucleus of a future possible Palestinian state”.

EU considers possible Rafah border mission

Talks on deploying a European Union mission at the Rafah border crossing in Gaza are at a preliminary stage and the deployment will not happen without an end to the war between Israel and Hamas, a senior EU official said on Friday. EU foreign ministers will hold their monthly meeting in Brussels on Monday, and discuss how to improve humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.

Two diplomats rold Reuters the United States had suggested the EU revive its ‘European Union Border Assistance Mission Rafah’, which has not been operational since 2007, when the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas seized full control of Gaza.

ICJ orders Israel to stop its offensive on Rafah

Judges at the top United Nations court ordered Israel to halt its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and withdraw from the enclave, in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide, citing “immense risk” to the Palestinian population. Friday’s decision marked the third time this year the 15-judge panel has issued preliminary orders seeking to rein in the death toll and alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza. While orders are legally binding, the court has no police to enforce them.

Reading out the ruling by the International Court of Justice or World Court, the body’s president, Nawaf Salam, said provisional measures ordered by the court in March did not fully address the situation in the besieged Palestinian enclave now, and conditions had been met for a new emergency order. Israel must “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” Salam said, and called the humanitarian situation in Rafah “disastrous”. Thirteen of the 15 ICJ judges agreed to call on Israel to halt its assault.

South Africa’s lawyers had asked the ICJ in The Hague last week to impose emergency measures, saying Israel’s attacks on Rafah must be stopped to ensure the survival of the Palestinian people.

Judge Nawaf Salam said 800,000 were displaced, and that he did not believe Israel’s word that they had provided safety and humanitarian access. He said “there was no evidence of that” and also ordered Israel to report back  the court within one month over its progress in applying measures ordered by the court.

The Palestinian Authority has welcomed the decision by the ICJ, saying it represents an international consensus to end the war on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told the Reuters news agency, as quoted by Al Jazeera.

For Antonio Guterres, the decisions of the International Court of Justice in The Hague are “binding” and the UN secretary general is “confidents that they will be duly respected by the parties”, according to a notes issued by his spokesperson.

Shortly after the ruling, Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said on the social media platform X that “the State of Israel is at war for its existence”. “Those who demand that the State of Israel stop the war, demand that it decree itself to cease to exist. We will not agree to that,” he said.

‘Air raid on Rafah minutes after Hague ruling’ – BBC

A few minutes after the International Court of Justice’s decision ordering Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah, warplanes launched a series of attacks on Shaboura field in the centre of Rafah city, the BBC reported. A local activist at the nearby Kuwait Hospital told the BBC that the sounds of the shelling were terrifying and clouds of black smoke rose over buildings in the Shaboura camp.

Netanyahu summons ministers following court ruling

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had an urgent telephone consultation at 5pm (4pm in Malta) with various ministers, including defence minister Yoav Gallant, foreign minister Israel Katz and with the Attorney General Chief of Staff Gali Beharav-Miara, according to Ynet, one of the major Israeli news and general-content websites. It also quoted the minister of national security – and radical right leader – Itamar Ben Gvir stating, “The irrelevant order of the anti-Semitic court in The Hague should have only one response: the occupation of Rafah, the increase of military pressure and the complete destruction of Hamas, until complete victory in the war is achieved.”

‘We are forced to continue fighting everywhere, even in Rafah’ – Gantz

Israeli War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz said, “We are obliged to continue fighting to get our hostages back and ensure the safety of our citizens, anytime, anywhere – including in Rafah. We will continue to act according to international law in Rafah and wherever we operate, and we will make an effort to avoid harming the civilian population, not because of the Hague Tribunal but first of all because of who we are.”

Mandate of negotiating team for potential hostage deal expanded

The Israeli war cabinet expanded the mandate of the team negotiating a deal for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza since October 7, according to the Ynet news site. Hebrew media reports said there was a wide consensus among the security establishment, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, ministers Benny Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot and Ron Dermer, and cabinet observer Aryeh Deri that the negotiation team’s “leash” should be lengthened. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was originally against expanding the negotiation team’s mandate, according to the reports, but was swayed by the broad support for the move and the recent release of footage showing the kidnapping of female IDF soldiers on October 7.

Egypt threatened on Wednesday that it may cease acting as a mediator following criticism of its conduct in light of the CNN report. Meanwhile, CIA director William Burns will travel to Europe to meet with Mossad chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in an effort to revive the hostage talks, two officials told The Times of Israel.

French PM and far-right candidate Bardella clash during EU debate

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and far-right EU candidate Jordan Bardella clashed on Thursday night during a TV debate just two weeks before the European elections on June 9.  The debate crystallised the radically-opposing views of both parties. The duel started out cordial but very quickly became heated, marked by multiple stinging accusations from both sides.

One of the most heated exchanges focused on Russia, as Attal accused Bardella’s party of cosying up to the Kremlin. “Your party needed money. Russia needed a party in Europe precisely to weaken Europe from within,” said Attal, referring to repeated accusations that the far-right party has alleged links to Moscow.

“In the European Parliament, I have always been very clear and I have always condemned without the slightest ambiguity the aggression of Ukraine by Russia, which is today a multi-dimensional threat,” responded Jordan Bardella.

The debate was a highly criticised one. Firstly, the head of French President Emmanuel Macron’s party Renaissance for the EU elections, Valérie Hayer, was not present during the duel – and Gabriel Attal isn’t even on the ballot for the June elections. Secondly, Raphaël Glucksmann, the French leader of the Socialist Party, is currently neck and neck with Valérie Hayer in the polls.

‘Opening up to the extreme right is a mistake’ –  Scholz

“It is clear to me that when the next European Commission is formed it cannot be supported by a parliamentary majority of right-wing extremist forces and therefore this majority should not be built,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin. “I am very distressed by the lack of clarity of some political declarations on this. I am however very clear: the Commission must be supported by the traditional parties. Anything else would be a mistake for the future of Europe.” Scholz had invited people to vote for Social Democrats, popular, liberals and greens.

China warns of Taiwan ‘war’

China warned yesterday of war over Taiwan and said it would ramp up counter-measures until “complete reunification” was achieved, as Chinese forces conducted military drills around the self-ruled island. Warships and fighter jets circled Taiwan on the second day of exercises that Beijing said were a test of its ability to seize the island, days after its new president was sworn in. China’s military kicked off the two-day war games on Thursday morning, surrounding democratic Taiwan with naval vessels and military aircraft as it vowed the blood of “independence forces” on the island would flow. The exercises were launched three days after Lai Ching-te took office and made an inauguration speech that China denounced as a “confession of independence”.

Beijing’s defence minister spokesperson Wu Qian said yesterday that Lai “has seriously challenged the one-China principle… pushing our compatriots in Taiwan into a perilous situation of war and danger”. “Every time ‘Taiwan independence’ provokes us, we will push our countermeasures one step further, until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved,” he said. The drills are part of an escalating campaign of intimidation by China in which it has carried out a series of large-scale military exercises around Taiwan in recent years.

Ukraine controls area of Russia push into Kharkiv region – Zelensky

President Zelensky said yesterday that Ukrainian forces had secured “combat control” of areas where Russian troops staged an incursion this month in northern parts of Kharkiv region. “Our soldiers have now managed to take combat control of the border area where the Russian occupiers entered,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address. Zelensky’s comments, after holding a meeting of military and regional officials in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, appeared to be at variance with comments by Russian officials. Viktor Vodolatskiy, a member of Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament, was quoted by Tass news agency as saying Russian forces controlled more than half the territory of the town of Vovchansk, 5 km inside the border.

Global life expectancy dips by 2 years

Life expectancy dropped by nearly two years during the Covid-19 pandemic, eliminating a decade of progress, the World Health Organization said on Friday. The annual Health Statistics Report found that between 2019 and 2021, global life expectancy dropped 1.8 years to 71.4 years, which was the same level as in 2012. A previous study published in the Lancet in March estimated that global life expectancy had fallen by some 1.6 years during the pandemic. The health agency said the decrease showed that health gains are “fragile” with Covid-19 erasing years of progress.

“This is the world’s report card on health, and the bottom line is that we are failing,” Dr Samira Asma, WHO’s assistant director-general for data, analytics and delivery for impact, said at a news conference. “Despite encouraging progress in some countries and for some conditions, overall life expectancy has fallen, and shockingly, the world is not on track to achieve even a single one of 32 health-related sustainable development goals with a global target,” she added.

These goals, which were adopted by the UN in 2015, include reducing global maternal mortality to fewer than 70 per 100,000 live births, ending preventable deaths of children under five, and ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases. While there’s been progress on maternal mortality since 2000, it has slowed, experts say. “The number of women dying from a maternal cause has remained unacceptably high. Every two minutes, a woman dies from maternal causes, equating to 800 deaths every single day,” said Dr Haidong Wang, head of monitoring, forecasting and inequalities for WHO Data.

Women’s preventive healthcare is low

Austria was the top country in Europe for women’s health, ranking third on a global index, according to a new report. The country initiated an action plan with 40 measures specifically for women’s health in 2017. Germany, Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic were the other EU countries among the top 10 in the world on women’s health. The index takes into consideration criteria such as access to healthcare, emotional health, and food security.

Malta ranks 53 with 27 points as against Austria’s 67 points and the EU’s average of 61 points.

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