Ursula von der Leyen has proposed five “basic principles” to guide the future of the Gaza Strip once the Israel-Hamas war comes to an end.
The principles, which are anchored in the perspective of a two-state solution, include the end of Hamas rule over the densely populated enclave and the lifting of the strict blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007.
The European Union and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organisation and have no formal contact with the group.
“Hamas has continued to build up its arsenal, while the economy of Gaza has collapsed, so it’s just the opposite of what we wanted. 70% of young people in Gaza are jobless. And this can only lead to more radicalisation,” the president of the European Commission said on Monday morning during the annual conference of EU Ambassadors in Brussels.
“Any future Palestinian State must be viable, also from an economic point of view.”
The five principles for Gaza proposed by von der Leyen are:
- No safe haven for terrorists.
- No Hamas-led government.
- No long-term Israeli security presence.
- No forced displacement of Palestinians.
- No sustained blockade.
“All of this may look overly ambitious, as the war still rages on,” von der Leyen admitted. “But we must spare no effort to keep the hope alive. To find a lasting solution, based on two states, living side by side in peace and security.”
Von der Leyen’s comments come as fighting intensifies in the region.
Israel has vowed to “demolish” Hamas after the militant group launched a series of unprecedented attacks in Israel on 7 October in which more than 1,400 people were killed.
Since then, the Israeli Defence Forces have pounded the Gaza Strip with heavy bombardment, causing a severe humanitarian crisis. According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry of Gaza, over 9,700 have been killed, including 4,800 children.
The European Union has adopted a joint position supporting Israel’s right to self-defence “in line with international law” and calling for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” to accelerate deliveries of emergency aid, such as food, water and fuel, into Gaza.
But the plea, also echoed by Washington, has failed to effect change on the ground and appears to ring hollow as the number of civilian casualties rises to new heights.
“The humanitarian situation is dire. The death toll and the suffering of Palestinian civilians is tragic,” von der Leyen said on Monday. “Our hearts bleed at the images of small children pulled out from under the rubble.”
“While Israel has the right to fight Hamas, it is also essential that it strives to avoid civilian casualties, and to be as targeted as possible,” she went on. “Because every human life matters, be it Israeli or Palestinian.”
The Commission chief announced a further €25 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza, bringing total funding for this year to €100 million, and said her executive was working on a “maritime corridor” from Cyprus to complement the Rafah crossing, the only route currently available to bring in emergency supplies.
The speech represents a new tone for von der Leyen, who was criticised in the first days of the conflict for adopting a position seen as overly one-sided in favour of Israel, and reflects the growing concern in Brussels over the mounting death toll in the region.
“The size and scale of today’s events require that we act and think strategically. Even and especially when the fog of war is thick, and emotions run high,” von der Leyen told ambassadors, referring to the conflicts in Ukraine, the Caucasus and the Sahel.
Borrell’s stark warning
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, was also present at the event and used the opening address to share his frank reflections about the Israel-Hamas war, which he described as “the outcome of a collective political and moral failure” dating back to the never-realised 1993 Oslo Accords.
“This is the last chance for the two-state solution. If we don’t succeed, we will be definitely in a spiral of violence and mutual hate for generations,” Borrell said.
In the diplomat’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be described as a “religious” or “ethnic” dispute but as a national problem of “two people who have an equivalent right to exist on the same land” and need to find an effective way to share it.
“There’s no military solution to the conflict. Without a political strategy, no one (can) win a battle against terrorism. You can crash people. But everywhere we have to look for political solutions,” he said. “Even if Hamas is uprooted in Gaza. This will not solve the problem of Gaza, not the let alone the West Bank problem. So overreactions are always understandable, but never effective.”
Borrell urged Israel “not to be blinded by rage” and cautioned that “ignoring the human costs could ultimately backfire” against the country.
The foreign policy chief then drew a parallel between the Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to warn that the bloc’s reaction to the former might dent its response to the latter and be perceived as a “contradiction” by the Global South.
“Both wars are different, completely different in their causes and consequences. But let’s be frank, the crisis in the Middle East is already having a lasting impact (on) our policy in Ukraine,” Borrell said.
“Our international support for Ukraine may erode in the light of what is being seen as the practice of double standards.”
In a direct appeal to the staff members in the audience, Borrell said EU ambassadors should “never make the mistake of framing global issues in terms of the West against the rest,” saying doing so would be “devastating” for the bloc’s image around the world.
“We are not the outpost of the Western world,” Borrell said. “This is the alpha and omega of my message: we are the keepers of global and shared values based on the United Nations charter. Everywhere. Every time.”