The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council, comprised of the 28 EU foreign ministers, regularly issues “conclusions” on a variety of international issues. Yesterday’s “Council conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process” show greater EU understanding for Israeli positions and an end to the EU’s patience with Hamas in Gaza.
The most significant change from the previous Conclusions of December 2013 is the demand that “all terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm” and the call for “the Palestinian government to take charge of the Gaza Strip.” The EU wants President Abbas’s so-called “unity” government to replace Hamas and maintain a monopoly on the use of force.
Significantly, the EU condemned Hamas for calling “on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.” Israel has been highlighting this war crime by Hamas and now the EU has endorsed Israel’s position.
The EU noted that Israeli military operations “must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law.” However, the conclusions do not assert that Israel has acted disproportionately or contrary to international humanitarian law.
For the first time, the EU included a paragraph about “events in the wider Middle East [which] pose serious threats to the EU” and warrant a re-statement of the EU’s “fundamental commitment to the security of Israel.” For too long and in too many European capitals, diplomats promoted the fallacy of Israeli-Palestinian peace as the key to peace throughout the Middle East. Perhaps the inclusion of regional threats in “conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process” demonstrates a new EU consensus that the Iranian nuclear program, the civil war in Syria, and the growing threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) hinder Israeli-Palestinian peace and not the misguided reverse.
The EU’s “peace parameters” changed with respect to refugees. The word “realistic” was added and now states that the EU expects “A just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the refugee question.” The change seems to be a nod towards Israel and an expression of frustration with the Palestinian Authority’s negotiating position on refugees.
Do the new EU conclusions represent a sea change? No. But the tide may be turning.