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War is moving European politics away from Israel

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In Europe, which has long been an important source of support for Israel, the political center of gravity is shifting away from the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Spain, Ireland and Norway recognized Palestinian statehood on Wednesday despite strong opposition from Israel and the United States. This week, most European governments offered unequivocal support to the International Criminal Court after it requested arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and Hamas leaders.

Israel still has staunch allies within the EU, particularly Hungary and the Czech Republic, while key countries such as Germany, despite growing dissatisfaction with Israel’s behavior, have not shown any inclination to change their stance. The growing rifts within Europe mean that the consensus-driven EU is not going to change its position any time soon.

But European countries face growing international and domestic pressure to take a firmer stance on Israel’s handling of the Palestinian territories, particularly its devastating war in Gaza.

Sweden has been the only EU member state to recognize Palestinian statehood for a decade. Europe has long supported an eventual Palestinian state — a two-state solution that the Israeli government strongly opposes — and has expressed dissatisfaction with Israel’s handling of the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, but most countries have been reluctant to go further.

Instead, the pre-war EU was moving closer to Israel, including through financially and politically important partnerships in trade and science.

War and the way it evolves is changing that. European sympathy for continued support for Israel after the October 7 attacks is waning as the war continues, the humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorates, and Israel looks less like a victim and more like an aggressor in the eyes of many.

EU members Ireland and Spain and Norway, which has close ties to the bloc, took the next step on Wednesday by recognizing Palestinian statehood – a harsh rebuke of Israel, although it had little practical effect and was not a surprise. The three European countries have been outspoken critics of Israel and support the Palestinian cause, even as they condemned Hamas and its brutal attack on Israel on October 7.

If more of its neighbors follow their lead, the EU could become the main counterweight to the U.S. position that Palestinian statehood can only come through a negotiated settlement with Israel. This would deepen the rift between Europe and Israel.

EU member states have expressed growing alarm and concern over Israel’s deadly and destructive actions against Hamas in Gaza. Particular attention is now being paid to Belgium, another staunchly pro-Palestinian EU country that has stepped up its criticism of Israel’s handling of the war.

The EU as a whole has maintained trade and other agreements with Israel, despite growing calls to cut off or significantly restrict them.

Since October 7, most of the 27 EU countries have held basically similar positions on the war between Israel and Hamas and have experienced similar shifts.

They first expressed disgust at the Hamas-led assault that killed about 1,200 people and captured 240 hostages, supported Israel’s right to self-defense, and continued hope for a two-state solution. They called on Israel to exercise restraint in its bombing, blockade and invasion of Gaza. This was followed by increasingly sharp criticism of Israel’s actions, which have so far killed about 35,000 people (combatants and civilians), forced most Gazans to flee their homes, caused food and medicine shortages, and razed many buildings in the territory.

Support for Israel by countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic could play a decisive role in determining what the EU can, and especially cannot do, in the Middle East. Austria has also maintained close ties with Israel, while other countries have criticized it.

Foreign policy is a jealously guarded national prerogative of EU member states, to which the bloc cedes many other powers. EU positions on international affairs are reached only by consensus, so the bloc is unlikely to take a clear stance on Israel and Palestine any time soon.

When ICC prosecutors on Monday requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yove Galante, most European countries, as well as the EU itself, took no public stance on the move but said they Respect Israel’s decision. Independence of the Court.

But Czech Prime Minister Peter Fiala said On social media Seeking the arrest of “representatives of a democratically elected government and leaders of an Islamist terrorist organization is shocking and completely unacceptable.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban Call it “Absurd and disgraceful.”

But the Belgian Foreign Minister, Hajah Rahebib says”, “Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrator. “

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the second largest country in the EU, explain “France supports the International Criminal Court and its independence, and the fight against impunity in all circumstances.”

France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that recognizing a Palestinian state was “not a taboo” for France but that the right time had not yet come, France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday, after several European countries formally took the step. “This decision must be useful,” Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said in a statement.

While France has so far refrained from acting alone, it voted last month in favor of a UN Security Council resolution recognizing Palestine as a full member of the United Nations. Britain, which remains influential despite having left the European Union, abstained from that vote.

The United States, France and the United Kingdom are all permanent members of the Security Council and have the right to veto any action by the Security Council. Only the United States has used such force, signaling a growing rift with Europe.

The evolution of Germany’s position will play an important role in the direction of EU-Israel relations. Germany, the EU’s largest member state, has long expressed a unique commitment to Israel due to its Nazi past and the Holocaust.

After October 7, Berlin immediately began to align itself with the pro-Israel side of the EU camp, but is now more openly critical of the way Israel is waging the war and calling for an immediate ceasefire against both Israel and the United States.

Asked at a news conference in Berlin about Spain, Ireland and Norway’s recognition of Palestine, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kathryn Dessauer did not indicate any change in Germany’s position.

“An independent Palestinian state remains a firm goal of German foreign policy,” she said. She added that it was an urgent matter but had to come after a “dialogue process”.

Aureliano Brittain reporting from Paris, and Christopher Schutz From Berlin.

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