No single word encapsulates the Palestinian experience better than betrayal, for they have been betrayed for seven decades by friends and foes, alike – from the United Nations to the Arab League, and from the United States to the United Arab Emirates.
When Palestinians are finished quantifying the losses they have suffered in terms of human life and property as a result of 11 straight days of Israeli military bombardment on Gaza, they will learn that their long-standing European allies now add to their long list of defectors. This adds further grief and sorrow to an already devastated population, one left to bury 232 of its dead, 65 of whom were children.
As Israeli warplanes, artillery positions, and armed drones rained down on Gaza, destroying 1,174 homes and damaging 57 schools and hospitals, European leaders joined their American counterparts in defending the Israeli government’s war crimes. They falsely argued that the chain of events in this latest round of violence started with Hamas rockets. Only it did not. The rockets were launched from Gaza in response to the violent expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem and intensified with the violent raid by Israeli forces on al-Aqsa Mosque during the final Friday prayers of Ramadan.
Hamas rockets “are terrorist attacks that have only one goal: to kill people indiscriminately and arbitrarily and to spread fear,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson, adding, “Israel has a right to defend itself against these attacks.” An opposition leader claimed Israel’s security to be in the “national interest of the modern German state.”
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said, “I condemn, with the utmost firmness, the attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip,” while adding the predictable joiner, “Israel has the right to defend itself against these attacks.” He also instructed his cabinet to fly the Israeli flag on government buildings in solidarity with the country.
While the governments of the United Kingdom and France condemned Israel’s attacks on Palestinian worshippers and violent evictions of Palestinian families, both placed most of the blame on Hamas, despite the militant group firing rockets in response to Israeli aggression.
Until this moment, the EU had provided the Palestinians with somewhat of a counter-balance to the United States’ heavy-handed bias towards Israel.
Until this moment, the European Union had provided the Palestinians with somewhat of a counter-balance to the United States’ heavy-handed bias towards Israel, having opposed former US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and blasted his decision to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. European countries also played a pivotal role in rallying international opposition against Israel’s threat to formally annex the occupied West Bank.
While these efforts have done little to change the realities on the ground, they signaled Europe’s commitment to Palestinian statehood, international law, and human rights.
“Much like the film ‘Groundhog Day,’ European diplomats find themselves stuck in a perpetual loop. For many decades, they have followed a well-rehearsed routine: developments on the ground steadily worsen and periodically provoke alarm in member state capitals, which then swing into action to defend their vision of a two-state solution,” observes Hugh Lovat, a Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“While they are sometimes successful in defusing successive crises, European governments have not fundamentally altered the overall trajectory of the conflict,” Lovat says.
Certainly, the European Union (EU) has not changed its official position on the conflict, as it remains committed to efforts that build towards a “Two State” solution, including an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories ceased during the 1967 war. Yet the comments that have emanated from European capitals during Israel’s latest siege on Gaza suggest a dramatic and dangerous shift in attitudes towards the Palestinians among European policy elites.
Javier Solana, a former NATO Secretary-General and former EU High Representative for common, foreign, and security policy, said in an interview in May that while it has always been “difficult to find a full consensus on Israel” among EU member states, the division is not only becoming deeper but also leaving Brussels powerless to act.
“Fifteen years ago, it was commonplace for observers to forewarn growing Israeli diplomatic isolation if it failed to find a sustainable and peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue. These predictions did not come to pass,” notes Benjamin Haddad for Foreign Policy. “With Europe and the United States, of course, but also with new partnerships in India, Russia, and Africa, Israel has more economic and diplomatic partners than it ever has.”
In short, there’s no getting around the fact that Israel’s thriving first world economy – which has made it a global leader in military and surveillance equipment, information technology and biotechnologies, and a huge target for European exports – has left the Palestinians in the cold, at least from the perspective of those who hold political and economic power in Europe’s capital cities.
The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly one-third of its total trade and more than one-third of its imports.
The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly one-third of its total trade and more than one-third of its imports, according to the European Commission, which regards Israel to be one of the most important partners for the EU in the Mediterranean region.
In this increasingly hyper-competitive world, realpolitik supersedes concerns for human rights, international law, and historic ties. It is that same transactional dynamics that prompted the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan into signing “normalization” deals with Israel to gain access to its markets, weapons, and cutting-edge technologies.
That said, these European democracies will have to contend with the fact that only 32 percent of Europeans under 35-years-of-age hold a positive view towards Israel, according to a recent poll. This reality was brought to life when record numbers of Europeans and Brits participating in Palestinian solidarity marches across the continent in May.
It’s for this reason, the Palestinian people have forsaken their trust in international institutions and nation-state alliances. For them, hope lies with the people of the world, not ruling elites. They have been betrayed too many times to think otherwise.