Speaking ahead of a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday (19 November), the UK’s Wiliam Hague told Sky news on Sunday that “a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation.”
France’s Laurent Fabius while on a visit to Tel Aviv also on Sunday told press: “War is not an option. It’s never the solution.”
The EU in a joint statement last week blamed Hamas, the militant group which controls Gaza, for starting the fighting.
“The rocket attacks by Hamas and other factions in Gaza which began this current crisis are totally unacceptable,” its communique said.
But Hague and Fabius took different lines in their public remarks.
“It is Hamas that bears … the principle responsibility for starting all of this,” Hague said. “Responsibility is shared. There are rockets fired from Gaza and there are extremely deadly attacks against the people of Gaza,” Fabius noted.
For its part, the UN’s office in East Jerusalem says the escalation began when Israel assassinated a senior Hamas commander on 14 November.
The US-based NGO Human Rights Watch says it began when Israeli fire killed a 13-year-old Palestinian boy on 8 November.
With 95 Palestinian and three Israeli deaths so far, the crisis is to dominate the EU ministers’ talks, pushing other Middle East issues into the background.
Ministers had planned to discuss Palestine’s plan to call a UN vote on 29 November on upgrading its status to “observer state.”
But Hague said the UN bid is a bad idea in the current context. “I think it would be a mistake for the Palestinians to try at this moment … because it would be so divisive among all the people whose help they need to get the peace process going,” he told Sky.
Palestine’s draft UN resolution has some sympathy in Brussels, however.
One senior EU contact told EUobserver the text is “mild” because it does not call for countries which do not recognize Palestinian sovereignty to do so and does not call on Israel to take back the millions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. At the same time, it gives a nod to UN resolution 181, which describes Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Ministers had also planned to take note of an EU report on Jewish settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Giving a broader context to the decades-old enmity between the two sides, the report says the Israeli army does little to protect Palestinian victims.
It urges individual EU countries to consider travel bans on settler extremists, an EU source noted.
Foreign ministers will also look at developments in Mali, Syria and Ukraine. But decisions on the three dossiers are to be left for later.
There is no EU consensus on recognizing the newly-formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate government of Syria despite the fact France took the step last week.
Detailed plans on how many troops and what kind of financial or intelligence support to give to Mali to reconquer its northern provinces from Toureg and Islamist warlords are due in December.
Ministers will also wait until next month to decide what to do with an EU-Ukraine political and trade agreement following flawed elections in the EU neighbor.