High Representative Catherine Ashton led EU calls to lift the Gaza blockade, but Israeli politicians have been increasingly dismissive of European overtures.
Throughout 2010, the EU has made it a priority to lift the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt, which has been in place since 2007 and has created, in the words of the European Council, a “humanitarian crisis”. An EU mission to help monitor the main Gaza-Egypt border crossing at Rafah (EUBAM Rafah) is suspended, and a separate mission training Palestinian police (EUPOL COPPS) only operates in the West Bank.
High Representative Catherine Ashton visited Gaza in March to discuss the situation but was unable to persuade Israel to reduce the blockade. The political context for the EU’s efforts changed fundamentally after the flotilla incident in May, in which Israeli commandos boarded ships trying to force the blockade and take aid to Gaza, and killed several activists. Egypt responded by partially reopening the Rafah crossing, but the EU monitoring mission – which has to access the crossing from Israel – did not deploy there.
European diplomats pressed the US to accept a UN Security Council call for an investigation into the incident, although this caused a split between EU members of the UN Human Rights Council (see component 72). European diplomatic pressure within the Quartet contributed to an Israeli decision to relax the blockade in June. In July, Ashton visited Gaza again and repeated the EU’s established position that the blockade should be lifted altogether. This declaration of intent is supported by a special measure for the financing of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, capped at €100 million, which comes on top of the €632 million for the 2007-2013 period. Visits to Gaza by a number of European foreign ministers, including those of Finland, France and Spain, also produced few results. In November, Ashton declared progress on lifting the blockade “unsatisfactory”: although the supply of food into Gaza did rise, other items such as construction materials continued to be held up. While the EU welcomed Israeli proposals to ease restrictions further in December, Israeli politicians have been increasingly dismissive of European overtures.