The Gaza conflict has the potential to worsen the crisis within European institutions due to significant differences in positions on Israel’s actions, a lack of coordination, and conflicting statements by senior officials.
These divisions revolve around Israel’s alleged non-compliance with rules of war and violations of international humanitarian law, particularly in targeting civilians and disrupting essential services.
A high-level European official told Asharq Al-Awsat that statements made by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in Israel on Friday evening were as close as they could get to “grandstanding… and irresponsible.”
Von der Leyen, who visited Israel with the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, gave her statements after meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
“It is not Israel’s right to defend itself alone, but it is its duty to protect its citizens and defend them,” said Von der Leyen.
She refrained from criticizing the warning issued by the Israeli government to half of Gaza’s population, instructing them to evacuate their homes within 24 hours, and she did not call for the opening of a secure crossing to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged population under bombardment.
Informed diplomatic sources have verified that Von der Leyen’s silence regarding the swiftly evolving events in Gaza and her statements during her Israel visit have caused tension within the European Commission and other European institutions.
These organizations, while supporting Israel’s right to self-defense, have stressed the importance of adhering to international law and the laws of war.
The European Commissioner for Crisis Management in the Von der Leyen Commission, Janez Lenarcic, had posted on his social media accounts that the Gaza blockade violates international law, following similar statements made by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, last Tuesday.
While European officials expressed surprise at Von der Leyen’s stance, they pointed out that even US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had recently emphasized the importance of Israel’s response adhering to the principle of “proportionality.”
Furthermore, Von der Leyen’s position contradicts statements from European Union foreign ministers who called for respect for international humanitarian law, ensuring the delivery of water, food, and electricity to Gaza, and facilitating the entry of humanitarian aid.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also called for the protection of civilian populations and the provision of essential services during her visit to Israel on Friday.
Sources speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat noted that Von der Leyen’s stance on the blockade imposed on Gaza and the indiscriminate bombing it faces contradicts her previous position when the Russian army besieged the city of Mariupol in Ukraine.
This inconsistency is seen as detrimental to Europe’s role in the region and as an overstep of her authority in foreign policy, which falls under the responsibility of Borrell.