The European Union plans to request for the creation of “humanitarian corridors and pauses” in the bombing of Gaza, with the aim of providing access for food, water, and medical aid to the Palestinian population. This information is from their most recent draft statement.
A formal announcement will be released following a meeting of the leaders from all 27 members of the bloc in Brussels on Thursday.
After several days of arguing about the wording, one diplomat described a week of “challenging conversations” about a situation that everyone acknowledged was “terrible.”
Three member states, including Germany which is a close ally of Israel, believed that the use of the term “windows” was more appropriate. They felt that the previous use of “humanitarian pause” implied a permanent ceasefire and would weaken Israel’s ability to protect itself.
On Thursday evening, leaders will be requested to approve a statement that expresses the European Council’s utmost worry about the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza. The statement also urges for sustained and efficient efforts to ensure that humanitarian aid can reach those in need without obstacles, including through the use of humanitarian corridors or temporary pauses.
The split highlights a significant setback for the EU in recent history, stemming from an initial disagreement between European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen regarding the inadequate attention to humanitarian issues in her initial remarks about the conflict.
On Thursday, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas addressed reporters and downplayed the disagreement, emphasizing that everyone would come together to address the urgent matter of providing aid to Gaza.
She stated that we will reach our goal and that our thoughts are not too distant from each other when discussing words, as the fundamental definition remains the same.
Nevertheless, there are those who believe that the absence of cohesion has already negatively impacted the European Union’s backing in the southern hemisphere.
One source stated that we faced severe criticism at the Cairo peace summit. It felt like all the efforts we made in the past two years to reach out to Arab nations were disregarded.
A diplomat expressed indifference towards the use of “pause,” “pauses,” or “windows” in the official summit communique, but expressed worry about giving Hamas an advantage. They noted that a prolonged pause could potentially aid Hamas in regrouping and launching another attack.
According to a high-ranking individual, there is a variety of opinions on the crisis, despite what some may believe. The past few days have involved a lot of effort to reach an agreement on the text, but they made sure not to turn the summit into a drafting session.
Following the display of unity and leadership during the Covid pandemic and the situation in Ukraine, tensions over the Middle East were apparent within the first 48 hours of Hamas’s attack on Israel. Von der Leyen and Michel clashed over the issue of ensuring Israel’s defense aligned with international law.
Diplomats reached a consensus that the conversations were challenging, but emphasized that the goal was to reach a language that all nations could accept in order to make progress and bring “political momentum” to the most important issues: providing humanitarian aid and restarting negotiations for a two-state solution.
A diplomat acknowledged that the circumstances were considerably tougher than those in Ukraine, however emphasized that there was a unanimous understanding of the significance of providing humanitarian aid among all countries, even those who debated the term “pause”.
EU leaders will devote a large portion of the afternoon to discussing the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, now entering its second winter. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will also participate in part of the discussion via video call in an effort to prioritize Ukraine on the agenda.
Diplomats said they were determined to send a strong message that Ukraine remained front and centre in EU policy and they would not lose sight of the need to defeat Russia and would support Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.
Efforts were made on the sidelines of the summit to revive discussions between Serbia and Kosovo.
Over the weekend, a group of influential individuals, including Gabriel Escobar, the US’s special envoy to the Balkans, as well as representatives from France, Germany, Italy, and the EU, traveled to Belgrade and Pristina for individual meetings with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovan President Albin Kurti.
The EU team is scheduled to meet with the two leaders from the Balkans prior to the summit.