News BlogIsrael Palestine

The Czech misstep about the Israeli offensive…

(B2) This is not amateurism, or a misstep. On a subject as divisive in Europe as relations between Palestinians and Israelis, at a time when an Israeli ground offensive is underway and the deaths are counted in the hundreds, when the Prime Minister of the State which holds the presidency of the Union European, through a spokesperson, asserts that the Israeli operation in Gaza is a “defensive” operation (1), he is making a serious error. Each European country has a very specific vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the Czech Republic has, in this matter, the freedom to assert its political options (even if the reality on the ground may seem different). But doing so in the name of the EU is a triple error: of principle, of strategy, of taste.

The first error is of principle : make such a statement publicly as European Presidency. Whereas the Member States which find themselves behind this simplistic opinion are rather rare. Several states – Sweden in particular, which takes over the presidency of the EU in the second half – are very critical. The minimum to expect from a presidency is, therefore, a certain neutrality. This is the discipline of a presidency. And every country that has the presidency knows well that it must, during its six months, somewhat silence its own opinions and must defend, with more discretion, its own interests.

The second, deeper error is strategic : affirm this on the eve of a visit to the region. Of course, this delights Israel. But it is not this type of declaration that will weaken or shorten a plan that has been carefully decided and prepared for months already. And this discredits any decision or action that the Czech Republic – or the European Union – can undertake. However, the strength of the EU in this crisis is precisely that it does not have one opinion but several: between the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian countries, the whole range of opinions is present around the table of 27. is the ability to have a multiple opinion which is the strength and singularity of the EU's foreign policy and not that of having a single voice.

The third error is taste. Placing responsibility for the act on a “personal error” of the spokesperson – as explained by Karel Schwarzenberg (photo), the head of Czech diplomacy – is the logical game (2). In diplomatic matters, as a European spokesperson reported to me, “the error is always that of the… spokesperson and not that of the political leader. We are here to be a fuse“. But that the Minister leaves this responsibility to the spokesperson (3), that he disavows it outright, is worrying. To have credibility, in such a delicate phase of negotiations, apologizing and showing humility is not an admission of weakness, on the contrary, it is proof of respect for different opinions...

Now the fundamental question for Europeans is what to do with Hamas. How to proceed, in fact, when we have decided – embargo obliges – not to discuss with one of the stakeholders? One day Europeans will have to come to terms with this. They who, in any case, contribute financially to the survival of the Gaza Strip.


(1) Questioned by AFP in Prague, the spokesperson for the Czech government for the presidency of the European Union, Jiri Frantisek Potuznik, declared on Saturday: “At this moment we understand that this action is part of Israel's defensive action, (…) we understand that it is more defensive than offensive, and this is the position of the Czech Prime Minister for the presidency of the EU”. And then he hit “This is the crossing of the Gaza border, there is no violence, no casualties, we are waiting for additional information and we would like more details”.

(2) He described it as “very serious error” et of “personal error” by the head of Czech diplomacy Karel Schwarzenberg, he however considered that Prague had not
not to apologize.

(3) On Sunday, the spokesperson at the origin of the information published a press release entitled “sole official position” (sic!) and presenting “apologies for the misunderstanding” and specifying: “Even the incontestable right of a State to defend itself does not legitimize the undertaking of actions whose main victims are the populations.”

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).