EU must ‘show more sympathy for Palestinians’ amid accusations of pro-Israel bias

Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for foreign policy
Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for foreign policy - MAZEN MAHDI/AFP
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The European Union must show more sympathy for Palestinian civilians because accusations of pro-Israel bias are fuelling anger across the Muslim world, the bloc’s top diplomat has said.

Josep Borrell said Arab leaders had accused Brussels of not applying the same standards to Israel’s war with Hamas that it applies to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“All of them were really criticising the posture of the European Union as one-sided,” he said after holding talks with Arab leaders and Palestinian activists during a five-day trip to the Middle East.

Mr Borrell claimed ministers from the region had signalled they would not support Ukraine the next time there was a vote on the war at the United Nations.

“If things continue a couple of weeks like this, the animosity against Europeans will grow,” he added.

As the EU’s High Representative for foreign policy, Mr Borrell, a veteran Spanish socialist, is tasked with formulating common positions amongst the bloc’s 27 member states.

But he has struggled to balance pro-Israeli voices in Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic with the likes of Spain, Belgium and Ireland, which have voiced criticism of its offensive in Gaza.

A neighbour of the Middle East and home to substantial Jewish and Muslim populations, the EU has a major stake in the latest crisis.

Although not in the same league as the United States, it has some diplomatic weight in the region, not least as the biggest donor of aid to Palestinians.

However, the EU has yet to reach a united stance on the conflict, beyond condemnation of the Hamas attack. Instead, it has largely limited itself to support for Israel’s right to defend itself within international law and calls for pauses in fighting.

Broken international law

During a fierce debate over whether the EU should back calls for a ceasefire last month, Mr Borrell was criticised for suggesting Israel’s response to Hamas’s Oct 7 terror attacks had broken international law.

Last week, he declared that “one horror does not justify another”, and urged Israel not to be consumed by rage as it moves to eradicate the terror group.

Israel insists it is working hard to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza while arguing it has has no choice but to take its fight to civilian areas where it says Hamas terrorists operate.

In response to criticism of the EU, Mr Borrell has insisted the bloc has backed humanitarian pauses – short breaks in the fighting to pave the way for vital supplies to be delivered and evacuations to be carried out – while quadrupling its own aid to Gaza.

Pro-Palestine protests calling for an immediate ceasefire have taken place across the bloc in recent weeks.

Some governments, such as in France and Germany, have tried to limit the demonstrations citing concerns over security and anti-Semitism, which has spiked in the wake of last month’s massacre by Hamas.

Arab leaders have demanded an immediate ceasefire to end Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which has killed at least 13,300 Palestinians, according to the enclave’s Hamas-controlled health ministry.

Similar criticisms have been made of the US, which is seen as the foreign power most capable of tempering Israel’s response.

‘EU roadmap’ to peace

Mr Borrell outlined an “EU roadmap” to peace after fighting between Israel and Hamas ends during his visit to the Middle East, which ended on Monday after taking him to the rubble of Kibbutz Be’eri, devastated by Hamas, the West Bank, a regional security conference in Bahrain and royal audiences in Qatar and Jordan.

The plan called for a commitment from Israel not to occupy Gaza and hand control of the coastal enclave to a Palestinian authority, as well as promises not to forcibly displace Palestinians.

Mr Borrell said the draft plan would require the help of the US and Arab states to implement.

He also voiced fears the conflict could further enflame the volatile situation in the West Bank and drag in other actors in the region if left unchecked.

“In light of increased extremists and settlers’ violence against Palestinians there is a real risk that the situation could escalate,” Mr Borrell said.

“Reports of a ship hijacked by the Houthis are another worrying signal of a risk of the regional spill over,” he added, citing the recent seizure of a Japanese-operated vessel in the Red Sea by the Iran-backed Yemeni rebel group.

Meanwhile, Cyprus said it was ready to open a maritime humanitarian aid corridor between its ports to Gaza.

Nikos Christodoulides, the Cypriot president, said the proposal was the “only one currently being discussed on an international level” that could increase the trickle of aid reaching Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing.

The plan would require the backing of Israel’s government, which controls and restricts access to the enclave’s coastline.

Supplies reaching Gaza would be distributed by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees using its established network, Mr Christodoulides said.

Planning for the corridor of about 230 miles is essentially completed, and aid can begin to flow when a pause in fighting is declared, he added.

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