After Gaza, the EU needs a game changer


Success for Operation Pillar of Defence hinges on the ceasefire negotiations that the Egyptian government is hosting as I write; if the talks collapse, it will be difficult for Netanyahu to declare a victory against Hamas without launching a politically disastrous ground offensive. Even if a ceasefire allows Bibi to climb down from his strongman soapbox, the stark question remains: what next? Through the haze of rocket fire and bomb smoke, a crystal clear reality has emerged: The EU's policies vis-a-vis Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been an abject failure.

Since the launch of Operation Pllars of Defence, EU leaders have somewhat rowed back on the rhetoric preserving Israel's right to self-defence, voicing support for an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. Though the EU has neatly apportioned blame for the current uptick in violence on Hamas, HRVP Cathy Ashton, UK Foreign Minister William Hague and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius have also cautioned against a ground war and emphasised the need for a permanent solution. Fair enough - but if a politically negotiated settlement for the creation of a Palestinian state is the EU's end-goal, it is gamely doing its best to subvert it.                              

As part of the Quartet, the EU has signed on to an unequivocal boycott of Hamas after its dramatic victory in Palestinian elections in 2006. But it is manifestly obvious that the Quartet conditions to Hamas (a renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and subscription to the Oslo Accords) have only had the perverse effect of entrenching political divisions between Fatah and Hamas, consolidated the blockade of Gaza that systematically destroys the lives of Palestinians living there and effectively ensured that final status talks to end the Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza remain a distant dream.

Taciturn political and economic support from the EU to the Palestinian Authority and empty protests against illegal settlement activity are sheepish substitutes for a hard-headed calculus of where current trends in this conflict are leading. Though the shift will be slow in coming, it is past time for the EU to reconsider its boycott of Hamas and revisit the Quartet principles for a start. Whether it comes now or in several weeks, the EU should take the opportunity to call for an end to the destructive blockade of Gaza as part of ceasefire conditions. And serious questions should be asked what exactly Tony Blair has achieved during his tenure as Middle East Quartet Representative, having overseen not one but two wars in Gaza that have exacted an ever-growing toll on Palestinians.

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