Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

EU and Israel at odds on how to lift Gaza siege

  • A man points to war damage in Gaza after a large-sacle Israeli attack in early 2009 (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)

Israel has said that a new EU-sponsored "force" could see the re-opening of Gaza crossing points. But the union's Gaza plan falls short of hard security guarantees.

"If you want to bring about a lifting of the closure around Gaza you should take responsibility and establish a strong, real and effective force to prevent smuggling there ... I can promise you that the minute the smuggling of arms into Gaza stops, the closure will be lifted," Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a communique to press after meeting EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton in Jerusalem on Wednesday (5 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"Close co-operation between Israel and the EU can end the smuggling and terror against Israel, removal of the siege and even the release of Gilad Shalit," the communique added, referring to the Israeli soldier being held by Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

The Lieberman statement appears to be a potential breakthrough for EU efforts to end the Gaza siege, imposed by Israel after Hamas took power in the strip in 2007.

A contact in the Ashton delegation told this website on Thursday that it is "difficult" to see how the security force idea fits in with the EU's current offer, however. "We have offered a three-pronged approach: help with infrastructure, equipment and training of Palestinian officials on the border, to help revive Gaza's economy and make sure we meet Israeli security concerns," the EU source explained.

The contact said the union wants to reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing point on the Egypt-Gaza-Israel border, even though Hamas would prefer to reopen the Rafah crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border instead.

The Ashton delegation, which includes the European External Action Service's new Middle East chief, French EU official Hugues Mingarelli, is meeting with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank on Thursday.

The trip was almost jeopardised by a pay-related strike in the Israeli foreign ministry, which has seen Russian President Dmitry Medvedev cancel an upcoming trip to Israel due to lack of protocol facilities.

Meanwhile, publication on Wednesday of leaked US diplomatic cables by Norway's Aftenposten newspaper has shed fresh light on Israel's Gaza policy.

A cable dating back to October 2008 noted: "As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to [US officials] on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge."

Another cable from 2007 said: "The objective [is] to damage the Hamas government in Gaza financially without creating a humanitarian crisis, and to buy time for [rival Palestinian movement] Fatah to rebuild support." It added: "The current closure of Gaza border crossings is not sustainable, with several thousand Palestinians currently waiting to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing."

Israeli analysts say the EU has in the past exaggerated the level of hardship endured by the 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza.

"There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza - people are not dying of hunger. The tunnel economy means that the markets there are full of goods," Avi Melamed, an Israeli counter-terrorism expert, told EUobserver on a visit to the region in November.

Mr Melamed estimated that there are around 1,300 active and inactive underground tunnels in Gaza. Around 200 are specialised in smuggling arms from Egypt. Another 200 or so are used primarily for smuggling gasoline, while many others are used as Hamas military bunkers underneath civilian facilities in Gaza itself in what amounts to "a huge spider's web" below the strip.

Opinion

EU-Gaza mission on the beach

The EU border crossing mission to Gaza risks becoming another symbol of waste and missed opportunity in the region.

News in Brief

  1. Commission to press Croatia on migrant 'abuse' at border
  2. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  3. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19
  4. MEPs restrict CAP funding for bullfighting
  5. Coronavirus: Liège is 'the Lombardy of the second wave'
  6. UK to keep out EU nationals with criminal past
  7. Report: EU to restrict travel from Canada, Tunisia, Georgia
  8. Pope Francis supports same-sex civil unions

Column

A 'geopolitical' EU Commission. Great idea - but when?

Safeguarding Europe's position starts with recognising the unpleasant reality that Europe's power is waning. Behind the facade of European cooperation, national self-interest still predominates and that has never been any different.

Rightwing MEPs bend to Saudi will after Khashoggi death

Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed two years ago on 2 October. Since then, mainly centre-right, conservative and far-right MEPs have voted down any moves to restrict, limit or ban the sales of weapons to the Saudi regime.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  2. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  3. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups
  4. France vows tough retaliation for teacher's murder
  5. All eyes on EU court for decision on religious slaughter
  6. 'Big majority' of citizens want EU funds linked to rule of law
  7. EU declares war on Malta and Cyprus passport sales
  8. EU Commission's Libya stance undercut by internal report

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us