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28th Feb 2024

EU suggests visa-bans on Israeli settlers, following US example

  • Settler synagogue in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)
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The EU should consider visa bans on violent Israeli settlers, as well as a tougher crackdown on Palestinian group Hamas, in reaction to the Gaza war, EU foreign-relations chief Josep Borrell has said.

Europe needed to "help preserve the viability of the two-state solution and the stability of the West Bank", he said in a five-page proposal seen by EUobserver on Thursday (7 December).

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And it ought to "explore EU reactions to settler violence in the West Bank. This may include visa bans against extremists attacking civilians and the use of the EU human-rights sanction regime," Borrell said.

"Settler violence is escalating from an already high level and Israeli army actions [in the West Bank] are becoming more frequent (219 Palestinians killed and 2,900 injured since 7 October)," the EU's informal proposal said.

Hamas, which rules Gaza and which massacred some 1,200 Israelis and abducted 240 others on 7 October, was already designated as a "terrorist" entity by the EU.

Borrell suggested to "reinforce sanctions against Hamas and other terrorist groups, especially on financing and narrative issues. Consider the possibility of a standalone sanction regime".

He also proposed that an EU-flagged military mission might help keep the peace in Gaza after Israeli forces pull out.

The EU should "consider tasking the EEAS [European External Action Service] to assess whether/which form of a possible CSDP [Common Security and Defence Policy] mission can potentially be deployed as part of an international security contribution to Gaza after the end of the current hostilities," Borrell said.

But for the time being, "the course and duration of the Israeli operation in Gaza and Hamas' continued ability to project terror are unknown," the EU paper noted.

And "in Israel, the discussion on the future of Gaza has not really started," the EU assessment added.

EU foreign ministers will discuss Borrell's "orientation note on the stabilisation and future of Gaza ... and ways to revive the peace process" when they meet in Brussels on 11 December.

EU diplomats in Ramallah have been recommending EU sanctions on violent settlers for over 10 years, in ideas routinely quashed by Israel's EU friends, such as the Czech Republic or Hungary.

But Borrell's proposal comes after the US, Israel's principal ally, led the way by imposing sanctions on settlers on Tuesday, creating unprecedented momentum for the move.

And even Germany followed the US, marking an end to Berlin's unconditional support for Israel over the past two months of war, in which Israel has killed 15,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including 6,000 children and 4,000 women.

It was "important to drive this [settler sanctions] debate forward at European level too" a German foreign ministry spokesperson told German media on Wednesday.

"Violence by settlers against Palestinian communities" was "unacceptable," the German spokesperson added. The Belgian prime minister also said the same.

Narratives

Borrell's mention of the "use of the EU human-rights sanction regime" on Israel refers to an EU blacklist of the world's worst rights-abusers, which includes African warlords, Chinese torturers, and Russian murderers.

And the EU's wartime stigmatisation of Jewish settlers would represent a major blow to Israel's narrative on the conflict.

The sole cause of the 7 October attack was antisemitic indoctrination by Hamas and by the Muslim Brotherhood, an international group, Israel's EU and Nato ambassador Haim Regev told EUobserver in Brussels on 30 November.

West Bank settlers and Israel's occupation had nothing to do with 7 October, he said. "No. This is not part of the war", Regev said.

Israel wants the EU to crack down harder on Hamas funding and on related Islamist political groups.

"Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood," Regev said, accusing them both of spreading terrorist ideology.

"Hamas is a popular movement — it's not like if tomorrow we take out the leaders, then the [Palestinian] people will start to like us. This is not what we expect to happen," he said.

And he painted a scary picture for EU counter-terrorism efforts: "Today if you go for election in the West Bank, I think they [Hamas] will win, I think today you go to election in Egypt I'm not so sure the they're going to lose, the Muslim Brotherhood, I think if we go into free elections in most of the Arab countries, they will win," Regev said.

Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, a nebulous international group, have officially parted ways, however.

"Hamas in its revised charter from 2017 does not even mention the Muslim Brotherhood," said Bitte Hammargren, a Middle East scholar at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm.

And Regev's attempt to link the Muslim Brotherhood to the 7 October attack appeared baseless, said H. A. Hellyer, an expert from the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank in London.

"I've studied them [the Muslim Brotherhood] for more than 15 years and I'm not a fan, but there's loads to legitimately attack them on, without claiming they're a genocidal group involved in 7 October somehow," he said.

There was "denialism" of the full horrors of 7 October in Muslim Brotherhood circles, he said. "I think it's grotesque, but it's not unique — you see it also in parts of the far-left in Europe and even in the United States," Hellyer said.

Qatar

The rest of Borrell's five-page post-war plan focused on Gaza reconstruction and EU "efforts to prevent a regional spill-over".

And Qatar, which hosts some Hamas leaders under an accord with the US dating back to 2012, has become central to EU diplomacy on the conflict, Borrell's spokesman told EUobserver.

"This is exactly part of the outreach — in an effort to find a way out of the crisis — to engage with partners who have links to and influence over the main actors, including on Hamas. This is what the EU has been doing right from the start, not only with Qatar but also with Iran," he said.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas both in Gaza and at the international level and the Gaza war has prompted talk Hamas leaders might be forced to leave Doha in future.

"If there's a serious threat, if there would be a threat by them [Hamas] from outside, we'll go after them wherever that is, but right now we're focusing on Gaza," Regev told EUobserver.

"If Hamas wasn't in Doha, I don't know how we'd be having hostage-release negations," said Hellyer.

"If Hamas political leaders are kicked out of Doha they might move to Tehran. So the question is whether the United States and Israel think it is a better alternative," said Hammargren.

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