Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

EP unanimously condemns violence against civilian populations

Agence Europe - 16 November 2006

The European Union is deeply concerned about the violence in Gaza over recent weeks. It calls on the Palestinians to cease firing rockets and on Israel to bring its military intervention to an end. By denouncing the Beit Hanoun attacks before the European Parliament, the Council, speaking through the voice of Finnish Minister for Trade and Development Paula Lehtomäki, again calls for peace to be given a chance, and for Palestinians to have a government that is truly representative of the Palestinian people. For now, the opening of the Rafah and Karni border crossings would at least allow humanitarian aid to be more easily carried to where it is needed (this aid exceeds by 25% that provided last year with €650 million during the year), the Council adds.

The same sentiment was expressed on behalf of the European Commission by Margot Wallström, Commission Vice President, who said there must be a return to the peace process and Palestinians must be able to form a national unity government. The Commission is willing to provide additional support for the Palestinians by the end of the year but, in order to do so, it will be necessary to resort to the emergency aid reserve and obtain approval from the budgetary authority, and therefore also from the European Parliament.

Given the dramatic situation in Gaza, division between political groups is being overshadowed. Thus, EPP/ED Group President Hans-Gert Pöttering, who confirmed his pro-American position, exclaimed: “We cannot accept the fact that, when criticism against Israel is justified, the veto of the United States at the United Nations prevents us from expressing it. There can be no double standards when it is a matter of Israel's right of existence and also that of the Palestinians”.

Israel, Socialist Group President Martin Schulz put in, can count on unlimited solidarity from the EU but, as a democratic State, it must accept criticism, for example, “when we refute the technical nature of the attacks on Beit Hanoun”. Israel must understand that the existence of a stable Palestinian state would be in its own interests. The only solution - as all repeated after Mr Schulz - is dialogue, which is not a guarantee of success but without which progress is not possible. Citing the words of Israeli writer David Grossman - who said the Israeli government “has the conduct of a scoundrel” - during a ceremony in memory of Izak Rabin, the president of the ALDE Group, Graham Watson, invited Israelis to recognise the fact that they are losing the recognition that they had enjoyed and that they are reaping the consequences of this.

Speaking on behalf of the GUE/NGL, Luisa Morgantini also cites David Grossman (who calls on his fellow citizens to understand that Palestinians are just as oppressed and without hope as the Israelis) and comments that the Palestinians would not need €650 million in Union financial support if they could have the customs revenue that the Israelis refuse to pass on to them. “Nothing can justify the drastic punishment against a whole people”, Greens/EFA member Hélène Flautre said for her part, urging the European Union not to give way before the Israeli government and to ensure, at the very least, that the Rafah and Karni border crossings are opened.

“If we pursue this eye for an eye policy, everyone will be blind”, said Eoin Ryan for the UEN Group, encouraging his colleagues to look at the UNRWA documentary on the latest violence in Gaza to have an idea of the brutality that is used against the Palestinian civilian population. Several MEPs called on the Union to use every means at its disposal to seek a solution. “We are not without weapons”, said Alyn Smith (Greens/EFA, Scotland), adding that the use of sanctions must not be ruled out. It is first of all necessary to use the association agreement with Israel, agreed Belgian Socialist Véronique De Keyser, who also denounced (and she was not the only one to do so) the entry into the Israeli government of the xenophobic party under Mr Liberman.

Condemning Israel's “frequent and massive” use of force, Ioannis Kasoulides (EPP/ED) of Cyprus sees a possible reason for hope in the results of the elections in the United States, saying that the US Administration may now perhaps review its policy and its role in the Middle East. Like French Socialist Béatrice Patrie, who also evokes the voices raised against violence within the Israeli population, Antonio Tajani (Forza Italia), although confirming that the EU must undertake to create a Palestinian state, added: “beware if we join forces against Israel”. British Conservative Charles Tannock does not agree on the call for an immediate cessation of military action by Israel if the Hebrew State comes under attack.

According to the conclusion reached by Paula Lehtomäki, this debate clearly shows that the time has come for political debate. The Council is ready to play its role in seeking an overall solution and will seek to bring the Quartet together by the end of December.