Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Gaza and the Middle East need more than words to stop the cycle of violence

Tue 07 May 2024 | 11:28 AM
Josep Borrell

The world must use its leverage to end the suffering, avert a wider war and return to talks over Palestine's future

More than six months into the war in Gaza, the region remains on the edge of the abyss. The Hamas-led terrorist attack on October 7, when 1,200 Israelis were massacred (most of them civilians) and hundreds more kidnapped, and Israel’s disproportionate response in Gaza – killing more than 34,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and bringing famine to 2.3 million – have plunged the region into the worst cycle of violence in decades, causing unprecedented human suffering and destruction. It must stop.

Further regional escalation, particularly between Iran and Israel, is in no one’s interest. It would neither help release the hostages nor feed starving Gazans. The Strip has become largely uninhabitable; people are living under plastic sheets, without water, electricity or anaesthesia during surgeries. Only a few hospitals still operate. It is a crime and utterly immoral to use hunger as a weapon of war while food piles up across the border just a few kilometres away.

In addition to the inhumane conditions in Gaza, we witness how the population of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is being terrorised by settlers, who are often protected by security forces. Land confiscations, demolitions and evictions aimed at making a Palestinian state impossible are entirely unacceptable. The EU condemns all settlement expansions and has just enacted sanctions against violent settlers. But more needs to be done.

What can we, together, do now?

First, we must end the suffering in Gaza. This requires the release of all hostages and a sustainable ceasefire. This is the goal of the mediation efforts of Egypt and Qatar, which the EU fully supports. Any ground operation in Rafah would have catastrophic and unacceptable effects.

Moreover, full, unhindered access for humanitarian assistance must be ensured. We are grateful to the UAE, Cyprus and the US for their contributions to the maritime corridor; however, only full land access can provide Gaza with the necessary aid, and the Erez entry point, which the Israeli government pledged to open, is still not at full capacity.

The EU continues to support UNRWA, whose work is irreplaceable in Gaza and the region. We welcome the resumption of funding by most donors and commend those who have increased their contributions amid the catastrophic humanitarian situation. But aid distribution remains an issue, also because humanitarian aid workers must fear inacceptable attacks that have already taken the lives of more than 200 of them.

Second, we need to avert a full-fledged regional war. The whole world is united in its call to end the military escalation between Iran and Israel. I have engaged with our partners in the Arab world on how we can collectively prevent more countries being dragged into the war and support a safer, and more stable international environment.

Lebanon also worries us. We must defuse tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, which have already resulted in dozens of civilian casualties and displaced hundreds of thousands on both sides of the border. The involvement of several partners in reducing the risk of escalation has shown that co-operation is the best way to ensure the security of Israel and the region. Nonetheless, any viable regional normalisation, as envisaged by the Arab Peace Initiative and the Abraham Accords, hinges on achieving Palestinian-Israeli peace.

There is no military solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Bullets cannot kill ideas, and violence only begets violence. A military victory that comes at the expense of civilian lives is short-lived, as it will plant the seeds of hate for generations to come. This endless cycle of violence and revenge will only serve to entrench Palestinians and Israelis further.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may reject the two-state solution, but it remains the only way to enable Palestinians and Israelis to live in lasting peace and security side by side. If anyone has a better solution that does not involve the forced displacement or the extermination of the population, they should explain it.

We Europeans are working together with all parties able and willing to contribute to making the two-state solution a reality. A preparatory peace conference should be held as soon as possible once a ceasefire is reached.

Simultaneously, several Arab states are working on a renewed peace plan, building on the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which promises full regional normalisation with Israel in return for Palestinian statehood. I recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Riyadh, where I discussed with leaders from the region and beyond how best to synchronise our efforts. I also proposed to invite the Foreign Ministers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Palestine to a meeting of the 27 EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels to take these joint efforts forward.

Now is the time for action. Words will not feed starving children. The EU is the biggest donor to Palestinians and the biggest trading partner to Israelis, and Arab states are the neighbours with whom Israel must find a modus vivendi. We need to use our leverage to transform this unspeakable tragedy into a catalyst for irreversible steps towards peace.

This article was published on "The National"