In recent years, the EU has turned a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinian people. Moral courage is required to stand up and call for a ceasefire in Gaza, writes Sinn Féin MEP for Midlands–North-West, Chris MacManus.
Since its foundation, the European Union – and previous iterations – has been, at its core, a peace project, brought about by a determination to ensure the powers of western Europe would not repeat the horrors of the two world wars. After the fall of the Berlin Wall this project expanded eastward, thus spreading the values of peace and reconciliation. Values we understand on the island of Ireland.
As it grew, the EU has spent the better part of the last three decades positioning itself as a geopolitical player, albeit with limited success. That said, the economic strength of the bloc meant it would be heard, at the very least.
However, built on that ethos of peace brokerage, the position of the EU institutions has been – and should always be – to push for dialogue and conflict resolution wherever conflicts brew within and beyond its own boundaries. Unfortunately, in the case of the recent conflict in Gaza, the EU has failed to hold such a stance.
The EU ought to strive to maintain an impartial diplomatic balance, fostering relationships with both Israel and Palestine. The challenge lies in mediating without alienating either side, as tensions often escalate, making it challenging to find common ground.
Thus far, the European Commission has failed spectacularly in this. Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission President, took a sledgehammer to the EU’s credibility when she met with Benjamin Netanyahu and effectively provided him with what can be interpreted as unconditional support for Israel’s attack on Gaza, amounting to what the UN considers “a blatant violation of international law and constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law”.
The projection of an Israeli flag, at her behest, onto the Berlaymont building in Brussels further undermined any slim possibility of the EU being considered impartial arbiters of peace. How could the EU ever imagine bringing both sides of the conflict to the table for peace talks in the wake of such bias?
Von der Leyen said she spoke for the peoples of Europe yet had no authority to do so. Such actions are a clear reminder why EU foreign policy can only be made with unanimity. It is up to the sovereign governments of the European Union to come to an agreement on the foreign policy of the bloc. It is not, nor should it ever be, the prerogative of a European Commission official on a solo run.
“Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission President, took a sledgehammer to the EUs credibility when she met with Benjamin Netanyahu…”
Chris MacManus MEP
We must all agree that there is no justification for the killing of civilians by anyone. All acts of violence must end immediately. International law must be respected and enforced. We should all be able to say that the violence we have witnessed since 7 October 2023 is unacceptable.
Though if the EU is to regain any credibility and play a positive role in bringing about a ceasefire, it must also accept that the violent and unacceptable Hamas attacks on 7 October did not happen in a vacuum, as the UN Secretary General has rightly pointed out. For years Palestinian communities across the West Bank and Gaza have been under a state of siege by a racist, apartheid regime. That situation makes conditions impossible for a functioning healthy democracy and society in Palestine, and there is no willingness by Israel to change that.
It is clear to me, that decisive international intervention is needed. The reality, however, is that von der Leyen has severely damaged any chances of the EU playing any proactive and constructive role in any such intervention.
The challenge for the EU now, and for the Commission in particular, is that it must accept, acknowledge, and articulate that if to enter a phase of conflict resolution, there needs to an immediate ceasefire. That ceasefire must then be followed by meaningful dialogue to bring about solutions underpinned by UN resolutions.
I believe the EU where possible should be impartial brokers of peace. Bias is ill-advised and will not assist to de-escalate the current situation. Dialogue is key. We have a responsibility to pave the way for an immediate ceasefire and an urgent need to bring all sides to the table for emergency talks.
Given our own history in Ireland, we are in a strong position to offer leadership and help seek resolution. With our history of neutrality and peace brokerage, Irish leaders are well placed to be a voice of reason and encourage the international community to pursue all avenues of peace and reconciliation.
As I have previously asserted, rigorous, impartial international leadership is required. This has been lacking for years as the EU and specifically the European Commission has turned a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinian people.
The shocking truth for all of us is, at the time of writing, neither von der Leyen nor the European Parliament have actually had the moral courage to stand up and call for a ceasefire. Surely that is the most basic of actions to begin a road towards peace.