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State of the Union: Israel-Hamas conflict dominates the EU agenda

Pro-Israel rally outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, October 23.
Pro-Israel rally outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, October 23. Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Stefan Grobe
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Europe spent the majority of the week dealing with the fallout from the Israel-Hamas conflict after the militant group launched an attack against its sworn enemy.

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Flanked by the other leaders of the EU institutions, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola led a public ceremony to honour the Israeli victims murdered in the attacks.

Metsola offered Israel the EU’s backing, telling the country’s ambassador who was standing next to the presidents of the bloc's institutions that Europe “stands with you”.

And she unequivocally condemned Hamas.

“There is no justification for terrorism. Hamas is a terrorist organisation. They do not represent the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. They do not offer solutions. They offer bloodshed," Metsola said.

But the EU’s reaction to the Hamas massacres in Israel was not without its difficulties.

First, Enlargement Commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi, announced that the EU would “immediately” suspend almost €700 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Just hours later, Crisis Management Commissioner, Janez Lenarčič, corrected Várhelyi by affirming that humanitarian aid would still be flowing.

Then, the next day, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said support should be increased, not decreased.

"The fact is that at this moment the casualties in Gaza are also increasing. 150,000 are internally displaced, and the humanitarian situation is dire, so we will have to support more. Not less. More," Borrell said.

On top of that, Borrell announced an “urgent review” of the EU funding programmes to make sure no money ends up in the coffers of Hamas.

In any case, there were only two EU countries that cut payments to the Palestinians, at least temporarily, Austria and Germany – the others were willing to keep on with business as usual.

In an interview with Euronews, Alexander Stubb, former Prime Minister of Finland and presidential candidate, said that Israel has the right to defence.

"Israel has the right to protect itself, but at the same time, it's very important for the European Union to work, work towards de-escalation and make sure that international humanitarian law is observed," Stubb said.

He added that Hamas likely has the backing of other countries in the region.

"What we're looking at is a cynical way of murdering your brothers and sisters and also from Hamas perspective, the enemy. So, I simply cannot understand why this senseless attack was made unless there are bigger players behind it," he told Euronews.

The divisions within the 27 EU governments over the Israeli-Hamas conflict is a mirror image of feelings and opinions within our European societies.

Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, supporters of both sides have taken to the streets and made themselves heard.

Demonstrations, rallies and vigils were staged all over Europe, moving the long-running Middle Eastern conflict right to our doorsteps.

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In France, Britain, Germany and elsewhere, authorities stepped up security measures amid fears that hateful rhetoric could soon become real violence.

And as the war between Israel and Hamas is unlikely to end tomorrow, the hope is that the situation will not get out of control on European streets.

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