EU’s Borrell says Gaza must stay under Palestinian control

No forced displacement of Palestinians or occupation of territory by Israeli forces, top European diplomat tells hosts

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during his visit to Kibbutz Be'eri near the border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday AFP
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Palestinians must continue living in the Gaza Strip under a reinforced Palestinian Authority once the Israel-Hamas war is over, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Friday as he travelled the region in an attempt to revive a political solution to the decades-old conflict.

"There can be no "forced displacement of Palestinian people out of Gaza, no territorial changes, no reoccupation by Israel or a safe haven for Hamas," Mr Borrell said at a joint press statement with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah.

Gesturing towards Mr Shtayyeh, Mr Borrell said that the Palestinian Authority must return to Gaza. "Maybe you will need support from the international community, but the Palestinian Authority has to return to Gaza," Mr Borrell said.

You will need support from the international community, but the Palestinian Authority has to return to Gaza
Josep Borrell

Mr Borrell, a Spanish politician, landed in Israel on Thursday at the start of a four-day trip to the Middle East that includes stops in the Palestinian territories, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan.

His proposals for Gaza echo those previously made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who travelled to Egypt and Jordan on Saturday.

Speaking after weeks of criticism for her apparent pro-Israel bias, Ms von der Leyen suggested on November 6 that an international peace force under UN mandate be deployed in Gaza once the war is over.

There can be no sustained blockade, no long-term Israeli presence and no forced displacement of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, she said.

Mr Shtayyeh said he broadly agreed with the EU's proposals.

"We need to keep the Palestinians on their territory," he said on Friday, pointing to the fact that 65 per cent of Gaza's population are already refugees.

He also asked the EU to call for an "immediate ceasefire" to provide food, fuel and shelter to Gaza's population. The EU has so far asked for humanitarian pauses but not a ceasefire.

Mr Borrell's meeting with Palestinian representatives came after discussions with Israeli leaders and families of hostages detained by Hamas in its attack on October 7 that killed about 1,200 Israelis. Mr Borrell also visited Kibbutz Be'eri, one of the main targets of the Hamas attacks.

Mr Borrell is widely viewed as having more tense relations with Israel than Ms von der Leyen, who was one of the first European leaders to travel to Israel to show her solidarity after the Hamas attacks. She also visited Kibbutz Be'eri.

Earlier this year, Mr Borrell was reported as unwelcome in Israel owing to comments he had made about the violence against Palestinians perpetrated by illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank. About 200 Palestinians have been killed in the area since the latest war began.

Mr Shtayyeh expressed regret that Mr Borrell was unable to visit Gaza.

"I know that you have been visiting certain areas in Israel and you have seen what you have seen," he said. "It's a pity that you did not ... see Gaza. It's a pity that you did not see the 33,000 injured Palestinians and the 12,000 Palestinians killed, 5,421 of them are children."

Speaking on Thursday alongside Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Mr Borrell said that the international community, including the EU, had committed “a political and moral fault” for losing interest in solving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The death toll of Israel’s retaliatory military operation in Gaza surpasses 11,500, according to local authorities. It is not clear how long Israel will keep a military presence in the enclave, from which it withdrew in 2005.

The Israeli army said on Friday that it was close to dismantling Hamas's military system in north Gaza and it is now expected to focus its attention on the southern area of the enclave, where civilian populations have fled.

Mr Borrell has called for more Arab involvement in a political solution to the conflict.

“Currently, Arab countries are not ready to discuss 'the day after'” Mr Borrell wrote in an article published on Wednesday in French magazine Le Grand Continent.

“However, to achieve a lasting solution, we will need their commitment, which must not only be financial,” he wrote.

Yet such calls for Arab involvement in discussions on how Gaza will be governed in the future has so far been met with scepticism by Arab diplomats in Brussels.

Updated: November 17, 2023, 2:27 PM