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Israel-Palestine. Von der Leyen's diplomatic blunder

(B2) An emergency meeting of foreign ministers has been scheduled for Tuesday to show European unity in the face of tensions between Israel and Palestine. And avoid damage to European unity. It's about strengthening ties and avoiding untimely missteps like the one that happened in recent days.

Ursula von der Leyen at the Elysée in July 2017, then German Defense Minister (© NGV / B2 – Archives)

This meeting was convened by the High Representative of the EU, head of diplomacy Josep Borrell, after consultation with the various ministers. The objective as he explains it in a tweet is of : " coordinate and discuss how the European Union can best contribute to ending the current violence ". This while " the continued escalation between Israel and Palestine (made) an unacceptable number of civilian casualties ».

This includes proclaiming Europe's voice louder and sending a message of unity. Which has not always been the case since the start of the crisis, between Europeans. The Israeli-Palestinian question remains one of the most divisive on the European level. And it is about preventing divergence from taking precedence over what unites Europeans.

A very German message

A tweet from the President of the European Commission has caused chatter in the European corridors. Ursula von der Leyen posts an ambiguous message on Twitter on Friday (May 14). It only names one protagonist: Hamas. She " condemned " the attacks " indiscriminate of the Palestinian movement, speaks of protect civilians on both sides », without indicating the other adversary: ​​Israel. It makes no reference to the situation in Jerusalem, nor to the attitude of Israel. A position which in no way reflects the diversity of points of view within the European Union or the European Commission.

A message that should rather be read in a very German context. In Germany, tensions in the Middle East have caused a rise in fever against Israel: flags were burned in front of synagogues in Münster and Bonn on Tuesday evening, and anti-Jewish slogans were pronounced in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday. A situation impossible to tolerate across the Rhine. “ Chancellor Merkel condemns rocket attacks against Israel and anti-Semitic incidents in Germany. Our democracy will not tolerate anti-Semitic gatherings »Warned the spokesperson for the Chancellor, Steffen Seibert, on Friday (Twitter). The CDU raised the Israeli flag at its headquarters, as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish state.

A European diplomatic blunder

Signed from her account as president, written in the three European languages, Ursula von der Leyen's message may however suggest that the European Union has revised its balanced position in the conflict and designates a single adversary: ​​the Palestinians. Delicate towards the Arab world as well as certain countries and European commissioners who have a different, or simply more balanced, position.

A dynamic of conflict

The dynamics of the conflict on site, with the destruction of a building where the international press is housed, like the American position, quickly caught the President of the European Commission on the backfoot. The Biden administration is not fooled by the Israeli position. She's calling back " Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a primary responsibility » as stated by Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the State Department, on Saturday (May 15).

A more balanced position of European diplomacy

On the side of the Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, the tone of the message is also slightly different. This, since the beginning of the crisis. And the head of European diplomacy reminds us of this again in a message published on Saturday (May 15). " [I] continue my contacts with my counterparts to support efforts to defuse the extremely worrying situation in Israel/Palestine. The EU's priority and message remain clear: the violence must end now »

Rather classic message from European diplomacy. He obviously condemns the indiscriminate shooting of Hamas and its rockets, but also asks the Israeli government, specifically named, to ensure the protection of civilians, and to respect the status quo on the custody of holy places, etc.

The corrected shot

Realizing her blunder, the president corrected the situation on Saturday evening (May 16), this time clearly displaying her “ full support “to the efforts led by the head of European diplomacy” to work towards a diplomatic solution to end the violence ».

A message written in a single language (in English), but so fast that the first name of Josep Borrell is scratched (transformed into Joseph, it will be corrected immediately afterwards). The incident is closed. But it will leave some traces.

Conclusion: first master the codes before claiming

The place on the diplomatic sofa is not just a requirement of protocol. Geopolitics is an art that deserves to be learned and measured. The blunder of Ursula von der Leyen's tweet remains limited (fortunately). But the president of the European executive has demonstrated that she has not yet mastered all the codes of a more geopolitical function of the European Commission. She thus seems more comfortable making a storm in a glass of water and competing with Charles Michel for a place on an armchair (read: The sofa strategy. Of power and brutality), than to propel Europe onto the international scene. She remains in a pattern of thought that is very Berlin. In European and economic matters, this has an advantage. On the international scene, this is not always the right balance. Be careful of future slippages, they could be more damaging…

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: Conflict in Israel: where has the Geopolitical Commission gone?

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).

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