08.12.2023 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Europe: new developments in Palestinian politics

The world’s media have increasingly printed articles about a number of European countries that have begun to speak out more boldly against Israel’s policies and its bloody massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. The willingness to criticise Israeli policy and its leadership led by Benjamin Netanyahu, notes the Swiss newspaper Blick, seems to be taking root in an increasing number of European countries. In stark contrast to France, Germany and Britain, which, under heavy US pressure, openly supported Israel by repeating its accusations that Hamas is a “terrorist” organisation, other European governments condemned Tel Aviv’s ruthless and unjustified retaliation against civilians in Gaza and insisted on the Palestinians’ right to life and human dignity. At a press conference at the Egyptian Rafah crossing on 24 November, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre De Croo welcomed the humanitarian pause and called for it to be extended to a permanent ceasefire to end what Pedro Sánchez called “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time”.

Insisting that Israel must, like all states of the world, respect international humanitarian law and stop killing civilians, Pedro Sanchez said that Spain “may decide to recognise the state of Palestine if the European Union does not do so”. In another sign of Madrid’s strong opposition to Israel’s insane war on Gaza, Barcelona’s municipal council on 24 November suspended relations with Israel until there is a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and Israel “respects the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people”. The council protested against the Israeli leadership’s campaign of collective punishment, forced displacement and destruction of civilian homes and structures. Incidentally, this is not the first time Barcelona, which is linked to Tel Aviv by 25-year “sister-city” relations, has taken such action.  In February this year, it suspended its twinning agreement in protest against “Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights”.

These actions mark the rising tide of official European criticism of Israel, triggered by the unfolding bloody war in Gaza. Other governments appear to have departed from the official EU policy line in response to the massive human suffering of the Palestinian people. Warning of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Støre condemned the Israeli blockade that has deprived civilians in the Strip of food, fuel, water and other necessities of life. Similarly, Ireland condemned Israel’s policy of collective punishment and said that nothing gave Israel the right to violate international law.

Most likely, the surge of support for the Palestinians among the general European public and condemnation of Israel in some official European circles has led the European Commission to somewhat soften its uncritical pro-Israeli stance. For example, president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen finally had an epiphany and expressed her concern about the rising violence against the Palestinians. “We must prevent the spread of violence, and therefore peaceful coexistence is only possible with a two-state solution,” she told a press conference in Canada on 24 November. She added: “The Palestinian people and Arab neighbours need assurances that there will be no forced displacement, but a viable prospect of an independent Palestinian state – reuniting Gaza and the West Bank – and governed by a reformed Palestinian Authority.”

It is understandable that the change in public opinion in some European circles, even in the face of brazen pressure from the Joe Biden administration, is due to several reasons. First, there is a growing realisation that Israel has long ago exceeded the bounds of proportionality in its response to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October, so European states want to send Tel Aviv some kind of warning signal. While no leader has yet used the term “genocide”, they have used terms such as “collective punishment” and “forced displacement”, making it clear that they understand that Israel is committing war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of an international court and international laws. For the most part, European countries are not convinced by any of Israel’s usual ridiculous justifications for its actions.

European governments are clearly responding to the wave of grassroots sympathy for the Palestinians and anger at Israel’s violations of all humanitarian laws and norms in the conduct of the war. The streets of European capitals have been flooded with unprecedented mass demonstrations warning European leaders that Israel’s war in Gaza has become their domestic problem. Especially after protesters directly and openly accused Western politicians and the mainstream media of hypocrisy and cynically repeating ridiculous Israeli narratives while turning a blind eye to Israel’s bloody crimes in Gaza.

The storm over the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the West has spread to political elites, causing inter-party divisions. For example, some left-wing parties in Europe have organised protests in their parliaments, insisting that Hamas is not a terrorist organisation but a Palestinian resistance movement. In Spain, representatives of left-wing parties accused Israel of war crimes and called on their government to act, perhaps prompting the Prime Minister to voice the possibility that his government might recognise Palestine as an independent Arab state.

The change in sentiment at the level of European governments may also be due to concerns about the rise of conventional threats, especially representatives of migration from the hotspots of the Middle East. Increased migration from this turbulent region has long been a pressing issue in Europe because of its negative economic and social consequences. Expressing such alarm, EU Council President Charles Michel warned that tensions in Gaza could trigger a new migration wave that would not spare Europe and would bring it new troubles.

Perhaps the countries that are hardening their positions on Israel in light of the events in Gaza will gain momentum as leaders who will force the major European powers to adopt a more balanced policy towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They should also take a bolder negative stance against Israel’s actions, whose current right-wing leadership often causes tensions in the Middle East, with a chain of negative effects on European national security. And many European countries would very much like to live peacefully, as in the old days, without any problems, which is prevented by the insolent US democrats sticking their noses in everything.


Victor MIKHIN, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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