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Unraveling Unity: Europe's Disarray in the Israel-Hamas Conflict Exposes Vulnerabilities, Delighting Adversaries

Wednesday, 01 November 2023 02:23 Opinion

"Europe's Fractured Response to Israel-Hamas Conflict: A Boon for Adversaries"

The recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has exposed deep divisions within the European Union, thwarting its potential to play a cohesive role in de-escalation. The eruption of violence, triggered by a horrific attack by Hamas on October 7th and met with a disproportionate military response from Israel, signifies a pivotal moment in Europe's diminishing influence on the global stage.

A few months ago, there was a narrative of Europe gradually coalescing into a unified force. This unity was notably evident in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Initially, European support for Ukraine lagged behind that of the United States. However, as the conflict persisted, European governments rallied, demonstrating political cohesion in backing Ukraine. Sanctions against Russia, hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees, countering Moscow's energy leverage, and increasing military and economic aid showcased a concerted European strategy.

The European Union exhibited resolve by reopening discussions on new member states, recognizing the strategic imperative for enlargement post-Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Simultaneously, transatlantic relations flourished, reaching a level of strength reminiscent of the 1990s. Europe, on a broader scale, pursued its energy transition through the Green Deal, bolstered economic and technological security amid US-China rivalry, and engaged with the global south through diplomatic initiatives like the €300bn "Global Gateway" project, emphasizing green growth and infrastructure.

However, recent events have cast a shadow over this geopolitical momentum. The Israel-Hamas conflict has laid bare the EU's internal divisions, hindering its potential as a unified peacemaking force. The unraveling of Europe's cohesive stance poses a strategic advantage to Russia and China, allowing them to exploit the EU's weakened position on the international stage. As Ursula von der Leyen's vision of a "geopolitical commission" faces challenges, Europe finds itself at a crossroads, grappling with internal discord in the face of global crises.

"The Unraveling Tapestry: Europe's Faltering Influence in Western Africa and the Western Balkans"

A cascade of challenges has marked a significant downturn in Europe's strategic endeavors, notably in western Africa and the western Balkans. In western Africa, where France has represented Europe, its decade-long military operation to eradicate jihadist forces ended in failure. The region now grapples with military coups, governance breakdowns, the climate crisis, food insecurity, and surges in migration, painting a bleak picture of European policy shortcomings. The touted "integrated approach" of bolstering security, development aid, and democratic reforms for African governments sympathetic to the West lies in ruins.

European attention has shifted to North Africa, exemplified by a controversial cash-for-migrants deal signed in July. Pushed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the deal sought to buy Tunisia's cooperation as a gatekeeper to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. However, this shortsighted policy fell apart when Tunisian dictator Kais Saied reneged on the deal, exposing the lack of foresight in European strategy. In the aftermath of the coup in Niger in August, European leaders deferred responsibility to African organizations, with Ecowas member governments issuing an ultimatum for the restoration of democracy. Europe, in response, clung to the rhetoric of advocating "African solutions to African problems," masking a palpable lack of direction.

In the western Balkans, while the situation has not reached a critical juncture, renewed tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have flared. Despite dangling the prospect of EU membership for candidate countries, the EU has proved ineffective in preventing or mediating conflicts in the region. The unraveling scenarios in both western Africa and the western Balkans underscore Europe's current state of helplessness and the pressing need for a coherent and strategic recalibration to navigate the complex geopolitical landscape.

"Strategic Setbacks: Europe's Geopolitical Ambition Unraveling in the Caucasus and Middle East"

The geopolitical ambitions of a unified Europe face significant setbacks, particularly in the Caucasus, where efforts to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan collapsed amid renewed violence. President of the European Council, Charles Michel, played a role in brokering an agreement after the 2020 war, but the situation deteriorated with Azerbaijan's siege on Karabakh, leading to ethnic cleansing and an uncertain future. Azerbaijan's claim to a corridor through Armenian territory, supported by Turkey and implicitly by Russia, adds complexity to an already precarious situation.

The unraveling of Europe's geopolitical aspirations becomes even more apparent with the renewed outbreak of conflict in the Middle East. Europe, along with the US and Gulf monarchies, had implicitly embraced the Israeli narrative that resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be circumvented. The normalization of Israel's ties with Arab nations, as seen in the 2020 Abraham Accords and continued under Joe Biden, reinforced this approach. Europe, however, found itself relegated to a secondary role, trailing the lead set by the US.

The Imec initiative, involving Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, and the EU, exemplifies Europe's subservient position. By sidestepping the Palestinian question, Europe attempted to avoid confronting the internal divisions within the EU regarding the conflict. The longstanding consensus on a two-state solution based on 1967 borders has been fraying, with some EU governments passively aligning with Israel's rejection of this framework.

As Europe navigates these challenges, it faces a critical juncture where its role on the global stage and its ability to assert independent geopolitical influence are increasingly in question. The shifting dynamics in the Caucasus and the Middle East underscore the urgent need for a strategic recalibration if Europe is to shape its destiny in an ever-changing geopolitical landscape.

"Europe's Diplomatic Dilemma: Contradictions and Divisions in the Face of Tragedy"

Since the tragic events unfolding in the region from October 7th, Europe's response has laid bare its internal contradictions. The EU's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been marked by a confusing mix of actions, from the suspension and restoration of aid for Palestinians to ambiguous statements on Israel's need to defend itself within the bounds of international humanitarian law. While leaders like Charles Michel and Josep Borrell have conveyed clear messages on Israel's legal obligations, others, notably Ursula von der Leyen, have introduced ambiguity, causing discord within European institutions.

These semantic discrepancies, while appearing subtle, hold significant political implications, akin to the distinction between approaching a fire with a water hose versus a gas canister. As Europe's approach seemed to reach its nadir, the EU continued to exacerbate the situation. Disagreements among heads of government regarding whether to call for a humanitarian pause or a ceasefire in the bombardment of Gaza highlighted the lack of unity. The subsequent split among EU countries at the UN General Assembly further underscored the internal divisions, with eight nations in favor, 15 abstaining, and four voting against a Jordanian resolution calling for a truce and the adherence to international humanitarian law.

Even within this discord, France's voting in favor was contradicted by President Emmanuel Macron's proposal to reactivate an anti-Islamic State coalition to combat Hamas, a move perceived as counterproductive. The fragmentation of European unity over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though possibly viewed as a footnote in diplomatic history, carries weight given the EU's historical role in recognizing the self-determination rights of the Palestinian people and articulating a two-state solution in the late 1990s. As Israel's largest trading partner and the primary aid donor to Palestinians, Europe could have played a more constructive role with courageous and coherent leadership.

The repercussions of these divisions, while currently internal, may extend beyond if acrimony persists, potentially impacting the EU's ability to take constructive action elsewhere, including in regions like Ukraine.

"As the Middle East grapples with escalating tensions and the US attempts to manage the crisis unilaterally, Russia and China observe with a sense of self-satisfaction. The fading aspirations of a geopolitical Europe might prompt some to ask, 'Why does it matter?' The response lies in recognizing that, amidst a global landscape increasingly marked by fragmentation, polarization, conflict, and violence, the need for a united and democratically principled multilateral union is paramount. Such unity serves not only the interests of European citizens but also contributes to fostering stability and harmony worldwide.

In this volatile era, where geopolitical shifts have far-reaching consequences, the significance of a united and principled European Union cannot be overstated. Nathalie Tocci, Guardian columnist and Director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs, emphasizes the imperative for Europe to stand together and uphold democratic values. The challenges posed by regional conflicts demand a collective and principled response that transcends individual national interests.

As the world navigates complex geopolitical terrain, the call for a multilateral union committed to unity and democratic principles is a resonant plea. It speaks to the broader responsibility of nations to work collaboratively, fostering a global environment that values cooperation over discord. In a world where chaos often seems to hold sway, the vision of a united Europe assumes heightened significance—a beacon of stability and shared values in a tumultuous sea of uncertainty."

"In conclusion, as the flames of conflict engulf the Middle East and the US grapples with containment efforts, the smug observations of Russia and China cast a shadow over the waning hopes for a geopolitical Europe. The question of 'so what?' takes on profound significance in a world increasingly marked by fragmentation, polarization, and violence. The imperative for a united and democratically principled multilateral union is not merely a European concern but resonates globally. Nathalie Tocci's insight, as a Guardian columnist and Director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs, underscores the critical role that a cohesive Europe can play in fostering stability and harmony on a worldwide scale.

In an era where geopolitical shifts wield considerable influence, the value of a united European Union cannot be overstated. Tocci's call for unity and the upholding of democratic values addresses the urgent need for a collective response to regional conflicts that transcends individual national interests. As the world grapples with the complexities of its geopolitical landscape, the plea for a multilateral union committed to unity and democratic principles echoes loudly. It beckons nations to collaborate, emphasizing cooperation over discord. In the midst of global uncertainty, the vision of a united Europe emerges as a beacon—a symbol of stability and shared values amidst the tumultuous seas of chaos."

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