11th Dec 2023

Neither Hamas nor Israel should rule Gaza in future, EU says

  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (r) (Photo:
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Gaza might become an international protectorate after the war, the EU has said, adding that neither Palestinian group Hamas nor Israel should ever rule there again.

"After the previous Gaza wars, Hamas immediately started rebuilding its arsenal and preparing for the next conflict. This cannot be the case any longer. Different ideas are being discussed on how this can be ensured, including an international peace force under UN mandate," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Monday (6 November).

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"There can be no long-term Israeli security presence in Gaza. Gaza is an essential part of any future Palestinian state," she added.

"Forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza ... would only be a recipe for more regional instability," she said.

Von der Leyen spoke at a yearly meeting of the EU's overseas ambassadors in Brussels.

Hamas, an EU-designated "terrorist" group, has ruled Gaza since 2007 and has some 40,000 fighters there, but its leaders live in Iran, Qatar, and Turkey.

Israel conquered Gaza in 1967. It pulled out ground forces and Jewish settlers in 2005, but continued its occupation via a land, sea, and air blockade.

The latest conflict saw Hamas kill 1,400 Israeli civilians on 7 October. Israel has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians since, including over 4,000 children.

Von der Leyen also promised an extra €25m in EU humanitarian aid to Gaza, but Israeli fire means the vast majority of foreign aid cannot get in. Israeli bombs have also killed over 60 UN aid workers in Gaza.

"A maritime corridor from Cyprus ... would guarantee a sustained, regulated, and robust flow of aid," von der Leyen said.

She called Hamas "pure evil," but declined to criticise Israel.

She also praised the 'Abraham Accords' — a US-led initiative to normalise ties between Israel and Arab states, as a "historic rapprochement" that "can and must continue".

For his part, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: "When I woke up that morning [7 October] by the crisis room phoning, I had the same feeling as on 24 February 2022 when the [Russian] bombs started falling on Kyiv. I had a feeling ... we were at an inflectional point in history".

Borrell, who is the EU ambassadors' direct boss, was more critical of Israel than von der Leyen in his speech.

He urged Israel "not to be blinded by rage" and said Palestinians have an "equivalent right to exist on the same land" as Israelis.

He condemned Israeli "brutality" and "colonisation" of the West Bank, noting that Israel has killed some 400 Palestinians there this year and that 530,000 more Jewish settlers have moved there in the past 30 years.

And he voiced scepticism about the Abraham Accords, saying the 7 October attack had shown that any attempt to create normality in the region without tackling the Palestinian question was doomed to fail.

"Even if Hamas is uprooted from Gaza, this will not solve the problem of Gaza or the West Bank," he also said.

Von der Leyen and Borrell both pledged enduring support for Ukraine's war effort against Russia's invasion.

Von der Leyen, who was in Kyiv last Saturday, led her speech with the Ukraine war and gave a wink that the EU commission might shortly recommend EU states start accession talks with Ukraine this year.

"It is clearly in Europe's geo-strategic interest to complete our union ... history is calling again," she said, harking back to rhetoric around the EU's 2004 wave of enlargement.

"This war will remain a strategic failure for the Kremlin," she said.

Borrell compared Russian president Vladimir Putin to Stalin over Putin's lack of respect for either Russian soldiers or Ukrainian people's lives.

He warned that the EU's reaction to Gaza was being carefully watched by African, South American, and Asian states, some of which were calling out "double standards" in Europe's hard line on Russia and soft one on Israel.

The Arab-Israeli conflict risked being seen as a "civilisational fight" between the West and Muslim people in the wider world, he added.

"We [the EU] are not an outpost of the Western world — we are the keeper of globally shared values based on the UN charter," he said.

EU backs Israel on 'human shields' in Gaza

The EU has backed Israel in saying its unprecedented killing of civilians in Gaza is partly due to terrorists' use of "human shields", amid intense debate on the morality of the war.

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