EU's Borrell seizes on Gaza truce to push for two-state solution

Bloc says it will send more aid shipments as soon as possible after Israel agrees to a temporary truce

A Palestinian boy recovers items from the rubble of a building following Israeli strikes in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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The Israel-Gaza conflict has provoked strong emotions that are hindering discussions on how best to find a peaceful solution to the war, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday.

In a speech to the European Parliament, Mr Borrell recognised that the bloc’s 27 member states are divided over the war but warned “there cannot be a military solution”.

“One cannot kill an idea, the only way [forward] is to get a better idea,” said Mr Borrell, who has recently returned from a five-day trip to the Middle East.

“The better idea here can only be to recognise that when you have two peoples that have been fighting over the same land for 100 years, they need to be able to live together," he said.

Mr Borrell was speaking shortly after the announcement by Israel of a four-day truce involving the release of 50 Hamas-held hostages and of 150 Palestinians detained in Israeli jails.

Like other EU leaders, the Spanish politician welcomed the release of hostages from the Gaza Strip as part of the agreement, which he described as an "extended pause".

"After seven weeks of suffering, finally, they will be reunited with their families," said Mr Borrell, who went a step further by calling for the "immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas".

His boss, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said she would upscale further aid shipments to Gaza “as quickly as possible to alleviate the humanitarian crisis” in the enclave.

The commissioner in charge of humanitarian aid, Janez Lenarcic, said he "hoped it won't be a one-off".

Some of Mr Borrell's language in his speech to Parliament reflects conversations he had during his November 16 - 20 trip to Israel, Palestine, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan.

In their meetings with Mr Borrell, Arab leaders told him that an alternative to Hamas needed to be offered to the Palestinian people, EU sources said.

During his trip, Mr Borrell said that he noticed that emotions were running high and polarising views, creating an obstacle for peace.

"It ought to be possible to have a debate about what is going on there without emotion," he said.

"It ought to be possible to recognise the right of Israel to defend itself but simultaneously for us to be indignant about what is happening in Gaza to civilians.

"It ought to be possible to criticise the policies of Israel because countries’ policies can be criticised without being accused of not liking the Jews.

"Let’s not jumble things up."

Mr Borrell referred to a statement made on October 30 by International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan in which he warned Israel that it had "not just moral obligations, but legal obligations" to comply with the laws of armed conflict in its war with Hamas.

Mr Khan had said Israel would need to demonstrate it did not purposely bomb protected places such as schools, hospitals, churches and mosques unless they had lost their protective status.

Both Israel and Hamas have committed "massacres", Mr Borrell said.

The October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that killed about 1,200 Israelis, down from an initial estimate of 1,400, was the "biggest massacre" of Jews since the Second World War, while the blockade of the Gaza Strip is “another kind” of “man-made massacre".

More than 14,000 have been killed, including 5,840 children, in retaliatory Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, according to local authorities.

Mr Borrell, who said he had a tough job in representing the EU Council on the issue because of deep divisions among the bloc's 27 countries, said the international community's efforts at finding peace in the region had failed.

"In the past 30 years, since the Oslo agreements, we have been repeating - two state solution, the solution is two states," he said.

"But we've done very little or nothing to bring it about. We thought that the problem could be compartmentalised," he said, "because one side was already peaceful and the other wasn’t."

"But this drama that has exploded has shown us that there needs to be peace not just between Palestine and Israel but also between Israel and Palestine."

Mr Borrell reiterated his plan for the region which he calls "three yes and three no": no forced displacement of the people of Gaza, no change in Gaza's borders, and no disassociation of Gaza from the Palestinian issue.

He has also called for the Palestinian Authority to rule Gaza with the backing of the UN Security Council, more involvement from Arab countries, and a greater commitment from the EU to the region.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 3:08 PM