Saturday, June 22, 2024

Is Europe drifting away from Israel? 

Photo: AFP

Last week, Spain, Ireland, and Norway recognised Palestinian statehood, despite strong opposition from Israel and the United States. This action serves as a sharp rebuke to Israel. These three European countries have been outspoken in their criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause, even while condemning Hamas. 

According to Ubai Al Aboudi, Executive Director of Bisan Center for Research and Development, Spain, as one of the ‘big four’ members of the European Union, can exert political and legal influence in support of Palestine. 

Spain has taken a firm stance against arms facilitation for Israel. It not only refrains from providing arms but has also restricted port access to ships carrying arms to Israel. This policy poses a challenge for the U.S., as Mediterranean access is denied and air transfer of arms is impractical and unfeasible. 

Sweden has stood alone in recognising Palestinian statehood for a decade. It was the first European country to do so. Despite the current liberal-conservative government’s pro-Israeli inclination, the Scandinavian kingdom has been one of the Western countries most committed to the Palestinian cause. 

Belgium, another deeply pro-Palestinian E.U. country, has intensified its criticism of Israel’s handling of the war. Belgium’s foreign minister, Hadja Lahbib, stated, “Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators.” Belgium has also called for a review of E.U-Israel cooperation on trade and arms facilitation due to human rights violations.  

While France has so far refrained from acting independently, it voted in favour of a U.N. Security Council resolution last month to recognise Palestine as a full member state of the United Nations. In contrast, Britain abstained from the vote. The French foreign minister stated after several European countries officially recognised Palestine, that recognising a Palestinian state is “not taboo” for France, but the right moment has not yet come. “This decision must be useful,” said Stéphane Séjourné, the foreign minister, in a statement.

Israel still has committed allies within the European Union, particularly Hungary and the Czech Republic. Their stance may play a decisive role in determining the European Union’s actions. On the other hand, key players like Germany, despite growing discomfort with Israel’s conduct, have shown no inclination to change their stance. The evolution of Germany’s stance will be crucial in determining the direction of E.U. relations with Israel. Germany, as the bloc’s largest member, has long expressed a unique commitment to Israel due to its Nazi history and the Holocaust. 

According to Aboudi, the consensus of all member states is important in the decision-making process within the European Union (EU). If practical implications of the pro-Palestine stance could be hindered due to a failure to achieve overall consensus within the bloc, arms facilitation could also be halted for the same reason.

However, Ireland’s Prime Minister, Simon Harris, expressed confidence at a press conference that other countries would soon join them in recognising Palestinian statehood. Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, an expert on Israeli-European relations, said the announcements highlighted the erosion of the global support Israel received immediately after the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks that sparked the war in Gaza. 

In Ireland, support for Palestinian civilians runs deep-rooted in what many see as a shared history of British colonialism and the experience of a seemingly intractable and traumatic conflict, which in Ireland’s case was resolved with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. British officials have drawn their own parallels between the Irish and the Palestinians. Ronald Storrs, who was the governor of Jerusalem from 1917 to 1926, wrote in his memoir that if enough Jewish people moved to Palestine, it could “form for England a ‘little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.” This is a surprising reference to English settlers who were sent to Northern Ireland in what became known as the “plantation of Ulster.”

Mr. Kielty, a comedian, presenter, and actor from Northern Ireland, said, “We are currently living our own miracle on this island because we are living in peace. For all those in Israel and Palestine, it might not seem like it, but there’s always hope, and we hope that your miracle comes soon.”

The recent divergence among European nations suggests a potential split within the global north. Historically, U.S. foreign policies have maintained pragmatism. However, the Biden administration faces significant pressure from a substantial number of citizens regarding its pro-Israel stance. 

Aboudi predicts that if Trump returns to power in the upcoming election, his presidency could generate turmoil, resulting in internal friction and potentially weakening America. Such a shift in U.S. strength could significantly impact the balance of power on the international stage.

The blurry line between “both-sideism” and condemnation

Following Israel’s recent heinous airstrikes on camps sheltering displaced Palestinians in the Tel al-Sultan neighbourhood of Rafa, the foreign ministers of Spain, Ireland, and Norway have come up with statements reiterating their pro-Palestine position. In addition, they urged the international community to look for a long-lasting solution to the crisis.

Although the statements were issued in solidarity with the Palestinians in pain, a cross-examination of their words poses several questions.

“Right now, we have extreme violence in Gaza. We have Israelis living in fear of terrorism and rocket attacks, and we have settler violence and the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank,” Norway’s Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said.

In a similar tone, Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin stated, “There can be no military solution to this conflict. And I refute absolutely any group using violence or terrorism to try and eliminate the State of Israel or to eliminate the State of Palestine as an idea or as a reality.”

Analysing the statements of all the three foreign ministers Mohammad Elmasry, media studies professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Al Jazeera that he is concerned by the language used by them. 

He pointed at the “both-sideism” in the condemnation of the Israeli violence, which is evident in phrases like “Palestinian violence and terrorism”. 

“So, there is a tendency to want to protect yourself against potential criticism,” he said.

According to Elmasry, the ministers’ emphasis on Saudi-Israeli normalisation while referring to the future of the Palestinian Authority is problematic since it bypasses the aspirations of Palestinians altogether.

He said that it seemed as if “they were adopting the US plan.”

 “You could take these from the Antony Blinken and Joe Biden school of international relations,” he added.

The revitalisation of the Palestinian Authority is a trope frequently used by US diplomats. Also, it is worth noting here that PA is first of all a subcontractor for Israeli occupation and deeply unpopular among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Major resistance groups in Palestine, and Hamas in particular, are invisible in this post-war plan devised by the US. Similarly, it is paradoxical that the three European countries talked about the Palestinians’ self-determination without listening to what they want in terms of leadership.

“The two-state solution” was once again stressed by the top functionaries of the so-called pro-Palestine European nations. With more than 700,000 Israeli settlers living on Palestinian land in more than 200 illegal settlements and outposts, Israel has rendered such a solution impossible. The situation is so grim that the phrase “two-state solution” sounds disheartening to any Palestinian listening to it.

However, when we posit the recent diplomatic moves of these three European nations within the larger programme of pressure that is being exerted on Israel, they appear to be helpful for the Palestinian cause.

As Israeli diplomats observe, a diplomatic tsunami is being hurled at Israel. But the question is: will it remain symbolic? or will it result in anything substantial?

Aysha Mohammed Ashraf is currently pursuing a master’s in International Relations at Loyola College, Chennai

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