BRUSSELS: The European Union faces growing hostility from the Muslim world and beyond over accusations of pro-Israel bias and double standards over the war in Gaza, the bloc’s foreign policy chief has warned.
Josep Borrell said he feared such a tough stance could undermine diplomatic support for Ukraine in the Global South and the EU’s ability to insist on human rights clauses in international treaties.
He said the EU should show “more empathy” for the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s war against Hamas.
His comments came in interviews Reuters during a five-day Middle East tour that took him to the rubble of Hamas-ravaged Kibbutz Be’eri, the West Bank, a regional security conference in Bahrain and royal audiences in Qatar and Jordan.
During the trip, which ended Monday evening, Borrell heard Arab leaders and Palestinian civil society activists complain that the 27-nation EU was not applying the same standards to Israel’s war in Gaza that it applied to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“They were all essentially critical of the unilateral stance of the European Union,” Borrell said.
Waving his mobile phone, he said he had received messages from some ministers saying they would not support Ukraine in the next vote at the United Nations.
“If it continues like this for a few weeks, hostility towards Europeans will increase,” he said.
In response to criticism, Borrell emphasized that human life has the same value everywhere and that the EU unanimously called for urgent humanitarian pauses to provide aid to Palestinians in Gaza and quadrupled humanitarian aid to the region.
But Arab leaders want an immediate end to Israeli bombardment, which has killed at least 13,300 Palestinians, including at least 5,600 children, according to the Gaza government.
They criticized both the EU and the US for not condemning Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza, in contrast to the West’s response to the Ukraine invasion.
He says Hamas attacks civilian areas where it operates and tries to prevent innocent casualties.
Europe is struggling
As High Representative for foreign policy, Borrell is tasked with establishing common positions among EU members.
The EU, which is a neighbor of the Middle East and hosts a significant Jewish and Muslim population, has a major share in the latest crisis. While not in the same league as the United States, it has some diplomatic weight in the region as the largest aid donor to the Palestinians.
But the bloc struggled for a united stance beyond condemning the Hamas attack. He largely limited himself to supporting Israel’s right to self-defense under international law and called for a cessation of hostilities.
Meanwhile, individual member states such as Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary expressed strong support for Israel, while others such as Ireland, Belgium and Spain criticized Israel’s military action.
France called for a humanitarian ceasefire that would pave the way for a ceasefire.
Veteran Spanish Socialist politician Borrell irritated some EU member states last month by declaring that some of Israel’s actions were against international law.
He avoided such direct public criticism on his trip. He also tried to sympathize with the pain felt by Israelis by recalling his experience on the kibbutz in the 1960s.
But he said the EU needed to do more to show it also cared about Palestinian lives, and this could come through stronger calls for aid to Gaza and a renewed push for a Palestinian state under the so-called “two-state solution”.
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