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4th Feb 2023

EU visit to Gaza is 'poke in the eye' for Israel

  • A boy in Gaza holds military detritus after Israel's attack in early 2009, which killed 1,400 civilians (Photo: Andreas H. Lund)

Israel has agreed for EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to visit Gaza next week in a mission criticised by a former Israeli diplomat.

"I think that both a visit and a meeting [with Palestinian militant group Hamas] are unnecessary and unhelpful," Israel's former ambassador to the EU, Oded Eran, told EUobserver from Tel Aviv on Monday (8 March).

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"Assuming that Proximity Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority start in the next few days, why would the EU want to give a moral boost and 'victory' to the Hamas and poke a finger not only in Israel's eyes but those of Abu Mazen and the US?"

The Israeli foreign ministry in a statement on Monday gave permission for Ms Ashton to enter Gaza "for close inspection of humanitarian aid work."

Ms Ashton, who has in the past slated Israel's blockade of aid shipments to the territory and its colonisation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, will make the visit as part of her symbolic first tour of the Middle East starting 17 March.

The trip comes as Israel and the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen and who is not recognised by Hamas, gear up to start US-mediated peace talks after 14 months of frozen relations.

Mr Eran, who was Israel's ambassador to the EU until 2007, is currently the director of the Tel Aviv-based think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies, and an advisor to the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs subcommittee.

"The EU can legitimately say that it has an interest in Gaza because of the EU assistance, the alleged humanitarian situation and so on. But for that purpose it can send a mid-level official and not one of the three senior persons in the EU structure," he added.

Ms Ashton's office will have to make administrative-level contact with Hamas, which controls Gaza, in order to expedite the visit. Political-level talks with the group, which is listed on the EU's terrorist register, are suspended under an informal agreement by the Quartet, comprising the EU, UN, US and Russia, in 2006.

Ms Ashton's spokesman, Lutz Guellner, refused to rule out a high-level meeting when questioned by press in Brussels on Monday, however.

The EU's reputation as an honest broker in the Middle East was damaged in the eyes of Arabic groups by its refusal last month to condemn the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai by a hit squad believed to have been sent by Israel. Its communique criticised the assailants' use of fake EU passports instead.

"For many in the region, it appeared as if Europe has acquiesced [in the policy of targeted assassination]," Alastair Crooke, a former EU advisor on the Middle East who currently runs the Conflicts Forum NGO in Beirut, told this website.

"Why is the West ready to call any response to this type of killing 'terrorism' but the assassination in Dubai by an undercover squad is not 'terrorism'?"

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