Gaza/Israel: Statement by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate on the developments in the conflict

EEAS Press Team

Speech delivered by Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell 

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Mr President, Honourable Members of the [European] Parliament,  

For more than four months, I have been calling the attention to the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, where around 30.000 people have been killed and more than one million are displaced in Rafah. A recent health report from Johns Hopkins and the University of London predicts that more than 60.000 civilians will die, unless there is a ceasefire and a massive surge in aid very soon. After almost 5 months of war and destruction, our focus must be on achieving an agreement for an immediate end to fighting to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe, save lives and free the remaining 130 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza. 26 of our Member States share that call.  

In unison with most of the international community, we have urged Israel not to advance on Rafah. It would have humanitarian consequences of incredible proportions, over one million Palestinians that have been displaced there and have nowhere else to go.  

Under these circumstances, the work of the United Nations, including UNRWA, remains crucial.  

UN Secretary-General [António] Guterres and Commissioner-General [of UNRWA, Philippe] Lazzarini are taking the allegations against UNRWA staff very seriously and have taken immediate decisive measures. We must recognise the high-risk environment UNRWA operates in, and cannot resort to collective punishment, or contribute to the further humanitarian collapse in Gaza, considering UNRWA literally vital role for the people in Gaza. 

But UNRWA is also essential for the stability in the region - Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and in the West Bank. In line with EU values and while we are working constructively with UNRWA on the reinforcement of their internal controls’, an audit carried by EU appointed experts, and a vetting system for their staff.  

It remains of crucial importance to provide UNRWA with adequate funding – a funding gap would have catastrophic consequences. We have to be clear: there is simply no substitute for UNRWA, now and for the day after. Individual accountability must be ensured, but collective punishment cannot be the answer. 

The situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is equally concerning. Demolitions, settlement construction, restrictions on movement and access, as well as settler violence, have all surged since 7 October.  

On the adoption of sanctions on violent Israeli settlers, we have an agreement at 26, but as you know, we need unanimity to adopt EU restrictive measures, similar to those imposed by the United States months ago. Some Member States have introduced national entry bans. We will continue to work towards a coordinated approach on this issue. 

With Ramadan approaching in two weeks’ time, there is an acute risk that the situation could get further out of hand, in the West Bank and in the region, if we don’t act decisively. For months, we have been urging Hamas to release hostages, and for Israel to protect civilians, increase humanitarian access, seriously confront settler violence, release essential revenues withheld from the Palestinian Authority, and desist from actions that risk aggravating an already explosive situation.  

We have also urged both Hezbollah and Israel to contain the dangerously spiraling violence across the Lebanese-Israeli border. There has been no substantial progress. 

Meanwhile, the current escalation has been a political windfall for extremists across the region, who thrive on polarisation and misery. All Iranian-backed militias are active, from Yemen to Lebanon. I am worried about possible miscalculations that would trigger a wider conflict. All diplomatic channels must be used to prevent further escalation, be it in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq or the Red Sea, where freedom of navigation is threatened by Houthi attacks on commercial vessels.  

The European Union is playing its role by deploying a naval operation, called [EUNAVFOR] ASPIDES, to escort and defend commercial vessels. It is the 7th EU operation that High Representative/Vice President [Josep Borrell] has launched during his mandate, and it is a new illustration of the importance for the European Union to develop its military capacities.  

But we must move beyond treating [the] symptoms, to treating the cause. Israelis, Palestinians, and all peoples of the region deserve to live in security, dignity and a stable neighbourhood. But we all know that there is only one viable and sustainable way to achieve all these objectives: a safe and secure Palestinian state, next to a safe and secure state of Israel.  

Thank you. 

 Link to the video (starting at 1:23):  

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