European Policy on the Hamas-Israel War: Between Internal Divisions and Marginalization

ByClément Therme

European policy on the Hamas-Israel war is the result of a culmination of strategies of different countries. This internal debate could have been a strength if a common European position had been reached, hence all European countries would need to adhere to a unified diplomatic stance and promote the new diplomatic line. This was not the case during the UN General Assembly Gaza ceasefire on October 27, 2023 (see the map below).

Source: Euractiv.

EU divisions on Gaza risk weakening the European position on the foreign policy stage. There is a loss of confidence and credibility, especially among Arab countries, and more globally with partners in the Global South. Since the start of the events in Gaza, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep has warned of a collective moral failure dating back to the never-realized 1993 Oslo Accords. During the initial days after the Hamas attacks, the EU – like the United States – decided to take a diplomatic position supportive of the Israeli diplomatic approach. This initial diplomatic posture is now evolving toward a more balanced approach among the majority of European countries that are now also considering the criticisms of a European double-standard between the Ukraine-Russia war and the Hamas-Israel conflict.

According to Borrell, Israel should “not be blinded by rage.”  diplomats are aware of the parallel between the Hamas-Israel war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the different policies that are perceived as contradictory by the Global South. European capitals’ support of Israel was demonstrated by the succession of visits by several European leaders to Israel, as well as that of the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen who displayed unfailing support for Israel. This new war in the Middle East is coming after the acceleration of the military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, and the unstable situation in the Sahel following the Niger coup in the summer of 2023.

This multiplication of crises constitutes a challenge for Brussels and underlines the need to build a strong diplomatic position despite internal divisions. During the in Brussels (October 25 to October 26), European leaders reached a minimum agreement regarding the Gaza war by simply calling for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” to bring aid to the residents of the besieged Gaza Strip. France also supports the idea of an international coalition to fight against Hamas, like the one against the Islamic State. President Emmanuel explained that he would raise the issue with France’s partners.

This shared position cannot hide the internal divisions between EU member countries. The first group supports Israel: it includes Germany, Austria and Hungary, and rejects the call for a ceasefire and even a humanitarian truce. The second group of member countries is more supportive of a balanced policy. It is composed of Spain, Ireland and Portugal. This diplomatic line is based on the idea to avoid any “double standards” and to support the civilian population of Gaza. The third group of member countries, led by France, is trying to organize a European policy to position Brussels as an international leader. The idea is to call for a ceasefire and to try to convince London and Washington of the urgency of a ceasefire. President hopes that other leaders — including in the United States and the UK — will join his calls for a ceasefire. These internal differences constitute a hurdle for the affirmation of a global diplomatic role for Brussels. Nevertheless, European financial support could be an asset for a post-war reconstruction project in Gaza. In the short-term, the mediating role is not in Brussels as was the case in the 1990s, but more in Turkey, Qatar, China or even in Moscow. The latter are regional and global players that are able to talk to all the parties involved in the conflict. The European role is more of an economic one and on the diplomatic side, the EU is a complementary player alongside the United States. This diplomatic marginalization of Europe remains a problem given the risk of a rise in social tensions across European societies, especially in Germany and France and also because of the regional proximity between Europe and the Levant. These European specificities are pushing European capitals to build a consensus to reach a creative and innovative strategy toward the region. Nevertheless, given the internal divisions, there is also a risk of the emergence of a European policy toward the Hamas-Israel war that would only be defined by Brussels’ alignment with US diplomatic preferences.

 Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Clément Therme
Clément Therme
a non-resident fellow at Rasanah-IIIS and a Research Associate at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris.