The European Union must show more sympathy for Palestinian civilians because accusations of pro-Israel bias are fuelling anger across the Muslim world, the bloc’s top diplomat has said.
Josep Borrell said Arab leaders had accused Brussels of not applying the same standards to Israel’s war with Hamas that it applies to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“All of them were really criticising the posture of the European Union as one-sided,” he said after holding talks with Arab leaders and Palestinian activists during a five-day trip to the Middle East.
Mr Borrell claimed ministers from the region had signalled they would not support Ukraine the next time there was a vote on the war at the United Nations.
“If things continue a couple of weeks like this, the animosity against Europeans will grow,” he added.
As the EU’s High Representative for foreign policy, Mr Borrell, a veteran Spanish socialist, is tasked with formulating common positions amongst the bloc’s 27 member states.
But he has struggled to balance pro-Israeli voices in Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic with the likes of Spain, Belgium and Ireland, which have voiced criticism of its offensive in Gaza.
Broken international law
During a fierce debate over whether the EU should back calls for a ceasefire last month, Mr Borrell was criticised for suggesting Israel’s response to Hamas’s Oct 7 terror attacks had broken international law.
Last week, he declared that “one horror does not justify another”, and urged Israel not to be consumed by rage as it moves to eradicate the terror group.
Israel insists it is working hard to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza while arguing it has has no choice but to take its fight to civilian areas where it says Hamas terrorists operate.
In response to criticism of the EU, Mr Borrell has insisted the bloc has backed humanitarian pauses – short breaks in the fighting to pave the way for vital supplies to be delivered and evacuations to be carried out – while quadrupling its own aid to Gaza.
Arab leaders have meanwhile demanded an immediate ceasefire to end Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which has killed at least 13,300 Palestinians, according to the enclave’s Hamas-controlled health ministry.
Similar criticisms have been made of the US, which is seen as the foreign power most capable of tempering Israel’s response.
‘EU roadmap’ to peace
Mr Borrell outlined an “EU roadmap” to peace after fighting between Israel and Hamas ends during his visit to the Middle East, which ended on Monday after taking him to the rubble of Kibbutz Be’eri, devastated by Hamas, the West Bank, a regional security conference in Bahrain and royal audiences in Qatar and Jordan.
The plan called for a commitment from Israel not to occupy Gaza and hand control of the coastal enclave to a Palestinian authority, as well as promises not to forcibly displace Palestinians.
Mr Borrell said the draft plan would require the help of the US and Arab states to implement.
Meanwhile, Cyprus said it was ready to open a maritime humanitarian aid corridor between its ports to Gaza.
Nikos Christodoulides, the Cypriot president, said the proposal was the “only one currently being discussed on an international level” that could increase the trickle of aid reaching Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing.
The plan would require the backing of Israel’s government, which controls and restricts access to the enclave’s coastline.