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Israel snubs EU-Med summit amid war with Hamas

Israel snubs EU-Med summit amid war with Hamas

by host

Israel accused organizers of an EU-Med summit of putting its war with Hamas at the heart of talks without consulting them. 

Foreign ministers from the Union for the Mediterranean — which brings together the EU plus Middle Eastern and North African states — are gathering in Barcelona on Monday to discuss the conflict. Except, crucially, Israel won’t be there. 

The decision to discuss the war “undermines” the purpose of the forum, and “carries the risk of transforming it into another international forum in which Arab states bash Israel,” the Israeli ambassador to the EU, Haim Regev, said. 

The foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Tunisia are expected to attend, in addition to foreign ministers from the EU.

The EU and the Spanish presidency of the EU Council decided to go ahead with the get-together despite earlier fears that Arab states or Israel would decline the invitation. 

Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock and France’s Catherine Colonna have confirmed their attendance. Saudi Arabia will also attend in its role at the helm of the Arab League and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation.

Israel’s absence has split the EU, with some countries keen to go ahead with the summit and others preferring to postpone until the end of Israel’s military operations in Gaza. 

“It’s an issue that Israel is not coming, it’s a fully-fledged member. There’s a risk that the Union for the Mediterranean will be damaged, it’s a gamble,” said a French diplomat who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, adding that it was essential to maintain dialogue with North African nations.

Spain has been trying to play a leading role in shaping Europe’s response to Israel’s war with Hamas, in which Israel has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is pushing hard to organize an international peace conference between Israelis and Palestinians, and discussed the idea as recently as this week with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

On Friday, Israel and Hamas started a temporary truce in the Gaza Strip that appeared to be holding shakily, according to Reuters

Divided Europe

The meeting on Monday risks exposing not only serious differences between EU members and Arab states, but also disunity between Europeans themselves. Spain, France and Portugal are calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, while Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary are arguing that it goes against Israel’s right to defend itself. 

According to Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle East researcher at the European Council for Foreign Affairs, the internal EU divisions will make it harder to “work together” with the Arab nations and find “a convergence point.”

“There are a number of European countries refusing to call for a cease-fire, while the French, Spanish and Irish are in favor. It clearly weakens the EU as an interlocutor,” he added.

Meanwhile, Arab nations are expected to present a more united front against Israel, using the summit as a platform to call for a permanent cease-fire and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians in Gaza. And while Europeans will be keen to discuss post-conflict Gaza, Arab nations will want to focus on ending Israeli military operations. 

“It’s going to be very tough. Tunisia for instance is going to say some very harsh things [against Israel]. There will be little dialogue and positions will be very far apart,” said the French diplomat quoted above. 

Nevertheless, the same diplomat said the forum will also offer some space for formal and informal talks, with opportunities for diplomats to sound out positions beyond the political posturing. 

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