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Conflict in Gaza. The lost opportunity of the Europeans

(B2) We could enthusiastically say that after Georgia, a page had been turned. European foreign policy was back on track. She was becoming an adult. The example of Congo in December (and the refusal of commitment of Europeans despite a request from the UN) had sounded like a warning. The inaction on Gaza demonstrates this today. What a lost opportunity for Europe, divided, which has no control over the protagonists, lets Israel do its thing, ... and aligns itself with the United States.

Five observations:

1) A Europe undeniably divided politically. The Palestinian-Israeli schism is one of the most fragmentary that exists (more than the fragmentation before Russia). And the first Czech statement on the defensive position” of Israel rather added fuel to the fire.

2) A lack of control over the protagonists. Difficult to discuss with the parties to the conflict when we have forbidden ourselves from speaking with one of them, with Hamas. Without maintaining high-ranking diplomatic relations, other avenues could not have been found. This is also one of the problems of the EU. As for the means of pressure on Israel, from the moment the United States supports it, they are limited. Europe did not want to activate the usual means of diplomatic pressure – suspension of discussions, agreements in progress… A simple declaration not from the Commission but from a commissioner considering that the strengthening of relations with Israel was not appropriate . Which is quite limited.

3) In general, the reaction is very limited compared to Israel. It took the bombing of buildings under the UN flag to provoke a… small reaction (1). The bombing of Danish medical clinics, under the flag of the Red Cross, did not provoke a reaction. The successive UN reports on the UN humanitarian situation (read health system on the verge of collapse) just as the declarations of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) did nothing. We have the impression that, in fact, Israel has a free hand. Entering Gaza, subduing Hamas, even trying to destabilize it, seems like a good thing. As long as you don't do too much visible damage, and you act for a limited time (a few weeks). We feel an unpleasant impression that the West is giving implicit support in a more global fight against Arab extremism.

4) A political non-existence. It's very clear. Certainly the High Representative, Javier Solana, played his role. Several countries have carried out several missions (French, German and Spanish in particular (read the diplomacy is active). But, apart from a “small tour” in the region, the Czech presidency of the European Union has been rather discreet. In the end, the EU, as a political body, was rather non-existent. At best, she played the sideline referee, only raising the flag when the ball skidded out of play. In doing so, the Europeans wasted a great opportunity. For several weeks, they had the capacity to interfere in the peace settlement process in the Middle East, to play a role other than sending some humanitarian aid and paying for the damage. The EU did the minimum . Waiting for the new president of the United States to be in place and give it away.

5) An alignment with the position of the United States. This minimalist position should not create an illusion. It is not a question of unpreparedness (the Czechs are well prepared, especially for the Middle East), nor because a “small” country is presiding (Belgium would have been in charge, the position would have been different). No… This is a matter of high politics. For the Czech government, the Europeans do not have to intervene in a strategic area for the Americans. For the Czech EU Presidency, the European Union does not have to have an autonomous foreign policy distinct from that of the United States. The debate is there. Not elsewhere…



(1) Specifically two UN attacks. The first taking place on January 8 on a UNWRA school then UN trucks killing an agent. The second, on January 15, provoked a rapid reaction from the European Commission (Commissioner Michel), from Paris, London and Berlin, quickly. But we had to wait until 19:50 p.m. for a reaction from the Czech EU presidency limited to the strict minimum.

NB: After the accusations of Norwegian doctors of using new weapons, we can profitably read, on the blog of JD Merchet, a detailed explanation on theuse and effect of DIME bombs.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).