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'I cannot condemn' Hamas attack in the current situation - deputy head of Palestine mission to EU

Euronews interviews Hassan Albalawi, deupty head of the Palestine Mission to the EU
Euronews interviews Hassan Albalawi, deupty head of the Palestine Mission to the EU Copyright Euronews 2023
Copyright Euronews 2023
By Mared Gwyn JonesGregoire Lory
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The deputy head of the Palestine mission to the European Union has refused to condemn Hamas' brutal assault on Israel "until the day when there is an independent, sovereign Palestinian state."

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In an exclusive interview with Euronews on Tuesday, Hassan Albalawi said the unfolding conflict is the result of the systemic persecution of Palestinians since their mass displacement during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, also known as Nakba.

"Yes, I want to be able to condemn (the attack) one day. The day when the Israeli state respects its borders and the day when there is an independent, sovereign Palestinian state. The day when Palestinians have fundamental rights. If there were an attack on that day, I would condemn (it). But in the current situation, I cannot condemn," Albalawi said.

"I have no difficulty in saying that any human life, be it Palestinian or Israeli, is a life that should be saved and that any loss of life is a tragedy," he clarified, but insisted that the problem outdates Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that took power in the Gaza strip in 2007.

The EU, like the US, considers Hamas a terrorist organisation. 

Albalawi also criticised European leaders' unequivocal backing of Israel's right to 'self-defence', first iterated by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hours after Hamas launched its unexpected assault on Israel early Saturday morning.

"By saying that Israel has the right to self-defence, Europe justifies the crimes Israelis commit against Palestinians civilians," Albalawi said. 

"When Israel attacks, when Israel occupies, when Israel colonises, when Israel encircles Gaza [...] with all of this, you (Europe) will say that Israel is defending itself?" he added.

On Monday, a spokesperson on behalf of the European Commission reiterated the EU's line, saying Israel has "the right to defend itself, its territory and its people in line with international law."

'Disappointed' with EU response

Albalawi told Euronews he was "disappointed" with the EU's initial announcement on Monday which suggested it would suspend all aid for Palestinians. The bloc is the biggest donor of humanitarian aid to Palestinians residing in Hamas-controlled Gaza and the West Bank, governed by President Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority.

The bloc later backpedalled as it confirmed it was launching an urgent review of its financial assistance for Palestine to ensure "no EU funding indirectly enables any terrorist organisation to carry out attacks against Israel."

The bloc’s hesitation shows that the decision is a “political” one, Alawi said.

"If it [the European Union] had continued with this decision, it would have meant siding directly and openly with the Israelis."

"And this is very serious because the European Union, if it had continued with this decision, would have lost. It would have lost its critical role as mediator in the Middle East, its role in trying to immediately reinstate international law," he added.

His statement came as the bloc's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, extended an invitation to the Israeli and Palestine foreign ministers to join an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers held on Tuesday afternoon. 

The invasion of Ukraine has shown what Europe is capable of doing when there is political will, Albalawi said, as he questioned why the bloc had been unwilling to sanction Israel for its incursions into Palestinian territory.

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"The EU could impose sanctions. It could at least prohibit, for example, trade of Israeli products. It could prohibit Israelis from colonising. It could prohibit European companies from trading with Israeli colonisers. The EU clearly states that Israeli colonisation is prohibited under international law."

"I am not asking for the EU to give arms to the Palestinians as it's doing with Ukraine. But it could at least take a position to make Israel understand that its policy on the ground will cost it dearly, both politically and economically," he added.

The "spoilt child" of Europe

While recognising Europe's pivotal role in providing aid to Palestine, Albalawi says Europe has a deeper historical responsibility to the Palestinian people. The United Nations' 1947 resolution, intended to partition Palestinian territory into Jewish and Arab states, failed to establish a Palestinian state.

"If we come back to the root of the Palestinian problem, it’s the result of European history. The Palestinian problem was created by Europe," he said.

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"We feel that Israel remains today the dear child, the spoilt child, of Europe. When you have a child that behaves badly, you tell them off, you reprimand, you withhold money, but you never take decisive action. You will never accept that anyone else can touch it because it's your child," he added.

"European history is founded on human rights, democracy. Why not in the Israeli case, why is Israel the exception?" he said. "Europe must assume its own history, values and international law, but also its historical, legal and moral responsibility in the Palestinian question."

Albalawi also called for Europe to throw its diplomatic weight behind efforts to reach a peaceful resolution for the conflict in line with the "two-state" solution.

"The solution cannot be military, it has to be political," he said. "The Israeli army is preventing the creation of a Palestinian state, and there are no sanctions. It's only an external intervention that can salvage the situation."

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