16th Jul 2019

Israel unmoved as MEPs hammer on Gaza 'atrocity'

  • Qassam rocket - three rockets fell on Ashkelon as the MEPs were speaking in Strasbourg (Photo: wikipedia)

MEPs and the sheikh of Qatar voiced heavy criticism of Israel in the European Parliament on Wednesday (15 November), but Jerusalem remained unmoved as Palestinian rockets hit Israeli towns.

"The behaviour of Israel's leaders is the behaviour of scoundrels," liberal MEP group leader Graham Watson said, quoting the words of bereaved Israeli citizen David Grossman from a speech given in Tel Aviv last week.

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"It's a disastrous strategy that leaves the stage open to other actors," Mr Watson added to applause in the plenary chamber, speaking on Israeli army killings of 70 Palestinian civilians in the past week, 19 of them in the "atrocity" of Beit Hanoun.

"Israel should make sure it's legal culture is not part of the colateral damage [of the conflict]," socialist group leader Martin Schulz said, calling on Israel to bring to justice those responsible for Beit Hanoun - dubbed a "technical mistake" by Jerusalem.

The more circumspect conservative group leader and likely future European Parliament president - Hans-Gert Poettering - also criticised US suppression of a Qatar-tabled UN resolution condemning Beit Hanoun.

The statements came after the sheikh of Qatar - Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani - earlier the same day in Strasbourg called for Israel to stop "killing and torture of civilians" and allow an "independent Palestinian state with...Jerusalem as its capital."

Rockets hit Israeli town

But the criticism also fell on a day in which a Gaza-fired Qassam rocket killed an Israeli woman and maimed another victim in the town of Sderot, while three more rockets hit the Israeli town of Ashkelon even as the MEPs spoke.

Some Israeli diplomats stationed in Brussels did not watch the parliament discussion, with one Israeli source saying that EU member states' willingness to cooperate with Israel on Middle East security has not been impacted by Beit Hanoun.

"No. When you look at the bigger picture [Beit Hanoun has changed nothing]," he explained, stressing that Jerusalem does its business with EU capitals which shape EU foreign policy more so than the European Commission or MEPs.

"We are seeing quite the opposite from member states. There is a strongly growing understanding how extremist radical forces in the Middle East are getting stronger and that Israel is not on their side," he added.

Member states call the shots

"With all due respect to him [outspoken liberal MEP Mr Watson], he is not the leading voice here," the Israeli contact said.

Meanwhile, the Finnish EU presidency and the European Commission fielded two relatively light political guns in Strasbourg on Wednesday, leaving Finnish trade minister Paula Lehtomaki and communications commissioner Margot Walstrom to take MEPs' questions.

Beit Hanoun is a "source of anxiety" for the EU, Ms Lehtomaki stated, urging Israel to limit harm to civilians and listing EU financial aid to Gaza. Both sides must end "the spiral of violence" Ms Wallstrom said.

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