The European Union has faced challenges in presenting a unified stance since the recent outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The 27 member states have universally condemned the October 7 assault on Israeli territory by the militant group Hamas, which is classified as a terror organization by the EU, US and other governments. But some EU member states have been much more critical than others of Israel’s response: An onslaught of rockets and a total siege on Gaza, the Palestinian territory ruled by Hamas.
Addressing the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — who has been under fire for going it alone on foreign policy of late — once again stressed solidarity with Israel.
“Hamas’ terrorists slaughtered over 1,400 men, women, children and babies in one day for one single reason, because they were Jews, just living in the State of Israel, with the explicit goal to eradicate Jewish life,” the German center-right politician said.
Von der Leyen, who traveled to Israel last week, also condemned a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital compound Tuesday night that killed an estimated 500 Palestinians. Israel and Hamas accuse each other of responsibility. “The scenes from Al-Ahli hospital are horrifying and distressing,” von der Leyen said, without pointing fingers in either direction. “There is no excuse for hitting a hospital full of civilians.”
Not for the first time in the past week, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, took a noticeably firmer line on Israel than von der Leyen. “Yes, we condemn these terrible terrorist attacks, but I think we also have to condemn the fact of civilian victims,” Borrell, a center-left Spaniard, told the European Parliament.
“It is clearly stated that depriving a human community under siege of a basic water supply is contrary to international law — in Ukraine and in Gaza,” Borrell said. “If we are unable to say so, for both places, we lack the moral authority necessary to make our voice heard.”
EU countries decide on their collective foreign policy positions together, but individual member states don’t always see eye-to-eye in the long-standing conflict. Some tend to side more with Palestinians (such as Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg) while others tend to back Israel (Hungary, Austria and Germany).
Left-leaning members of the European Parliament are much more critical of Israeli authorities, while their counterparts across the aisle emphasize the country’s right to self-defense and the threat posed by Hamas. EU representatives taking the floor in Strasbourg on Wednesday unequivocally condemned Hamas’ attack.
“We must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel — no hesitations, no excuses, no buts,” said Manfred Weber, a member of the European Parliament from Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union and the leader of the EU legislature’s center-right European People’s Party.
“We are fighting against Hamas, against terrorism, not against the Palestinian people,” Weber said. He also took a swipe at Borrell for not visiting Israel, where von der Leyen and senior US officials have met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.