Tens of thousands of Palestinians and people of Palestinian descent reside across the European Union (EU), including in Greece. In 2014, a large majority of the European Parliament’s members passed a resolution expressing support for a Palestinian state, a move that the Israeli government condemned at the time.
Yet, since Oct. 7, as a slate of government buildings across Europe were lit up in blue-and-white in a show of solidarity with Israel, several EU countries have clamped down on protesters rallying to support Palestinians, prompting criticism of free speech violations. In Germany and France, for instance, pro-Palestinian rallies have been banned in the name of ensuring public order and preventing the spread of anti-Semitism. Critics say those measures amount to silencing Palestinians.
‘Dangerous and unilateral’
As the EU stands by its position to support Israel, a slew of statements from European governing bodies — including the European Council — emphasize Israel’s “right to defend itself in line with international law and international humanitarian law” and demand that “Hamas release all hostages without any precondition.”
But the moves have prompted backlash from critics of Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7, but has also vowed to “work in Europe and Spain to recognize the Palestinian state.”
Kostas Arvanitis, a Greek member of the European Parliament from the left-wing Syriza party, told Inkstick that the EU’s position amid the ongoing war “is dangerous and unilateral” and goes against “the undeniable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”
In the early days of the war, it became clear that Gaza would endure a humanitarian crisis even more severe than those of the previous four Israeli wars in the coastal enclave since late 2008, Arvanitis explained. “The EU pretends not to see the just demand for self-determination,” he added. “They pretend not to see that Gaza is an area under complete blockade. … They pretend not to see that innocent civilians and unarmed people are being murdered and, of course, this shows the hypocrisy of the West.”
On Oct. 27, the United Nations General Assembly held a vote that saw 120 countries pass a resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire and demanding aid be allowed into Gaza. Eight EU countries voted for the resolution, while Greece joined the 15 EU members that abstained from that vote. Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Hungary — all members of the EU — voted against the resolution.
“Greece’s abstention in the UN resolution comes in contrast with standing issues in regards to Greek diplomacy, such as that of the Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus,” Arvanitis said, adding: “They didn’t address [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas and Netanyahu on an equal footing.”
Despite these apparent divisions within the EU’s approach to the war, European officials insist there is no contradiction in the bloc’s stance toward Israel and the Palestinians.
Peter Stano, the lead European Commission spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, argues that “the current conflict is between Hamas and Israel, and for the EU, Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.”
The EU pretends not to see the just demand for self-determination
– Kostas Arvanitis
According to Stano, the EU’s position is “agreed upon unanimously by all 27 member states.” He added, “All EU foreign policy decisions and actions are taken by the unanimous consensus of the 27 Member States, and the EU stance over Israel-Palestine is no exception. It is true that a member state might have diverging national opinions, but in the end, they agree on one EU position that mirrors the consensus of all 27.”
Stano said, “Our support to the Palestinian Authority, as the only representative of the Palestinian people, is both political and financial. The EU is the biggest international donor for the Palestinian people. Thus, there is no change in our relations with Palestine.”
Arvanitis disagreed, pointing out that the EU is “a pyramid” that consists of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament. “The decisions of the European Parliament do not coincide with the decisions of the leaders of the European Union,” he said. “The European Parliament is a co-legislator. Yes, the European Council has a unanimous position, but the European Parliament … does not have a unanimous position.”
‘Conflicting national interests’
For his part, Nikos Panagiotou, an associate professor at Aristotle University’s School of Journalism, says the EU’s attitude toward Palestinians will impact the way Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world view Europe.
“The war may be between Israel and Hamas, but considering the reactions [in] public opinion, it has a broader approach and directly or indirectly involves the entire Palestinian people,” he said. “The issue has moved beyond just the Palestinian context. It’s an important development for Arab public opinion.”
When countries like Spain condemn the “absolute stance” of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyer in favor of Israel, Panagiotou said, “This essentially indicates the various contradicting political stances within the EU, which consequently leads to division.”