Diplomacy has failed to stave off a resumption of the war in Gaza. Yes, Israel made clear its goal of destroying Hamas is not complete. But the end of the truce is also one more sign that both the U.S. and Europe hold less sway in the region than they once did.
PARIS — Unfortunately, the end of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was predictable. In a previous column this week, I wrote that the question was not whether the war would resume, but rather when (and how) it would resume. Israel has made it clear in recent days that it has not yet achieved its goal of destroying Hamas in Gaza, and that it still intends to do just that.
Still, international diplomacy has not been idle. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Israel on Thursday: the United States was putting pressure on Israel so that, once the conflict resumed, it would inflict fewer civilian casualties — a more “surgical” war.
It is obviously too early to know if Blinken’s words have been heard. The only question is whether Israel will apply the same massive strategy in the south of the territory as in the north, or if the country will carry out more targeted operations, in a region with a very high population density.
French President Emmanuel Macron is in Dubai for COP28, but a large part of his meetings will be devoted to the Middle East crisis, as will his next stop in Qatar — the central hub of negotiations on the fate of the hostages, and more.
The reality is that, until now, Europe, including France, is mainly present on the humanitarian level; and like other countries whose nationals were taken hostage by Hamas, have mostly been working behind the scenes for their release. But when it comes to a say on military operations or post-war political organization, Europe is absent.
Israel is wary of Europeans
First, Europe as such does not have the necessary cohesion on the Palestinian issue. Just look at the votes at the UN and how the 27 members are scattered. For historical reasons, Germany does not want to distance itself from Israel at all, while Spain is currently the most critical country on the matter. So much so that Israel recalled its ambassador in Madrid after a statement by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
The second reason is that the Jewish State tends to be wary of Europeans, who are generally considered more supportive of Palestinians. It is an old impression in Israel, left in part by the Venice Declaration in 1980 that was early to mention the two-state solution.
Blinken and Bibi
Blinken and Bibi on Friday morning
Need to act
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always favored the United States: Europe is good at making financial contributions, but not at influencing political choices.
Can this change? Things are off to a bad start, even if Macron is trying, among his current relations — to establish a French position, if not a European one. France has good ties with the Gulf countries which have a certain weight on the regional equation and it still has access to all parties. But Paris no longer has the influence it once enjoyed, and French diplomacy has seemed hesitant through this crisis.
As Israel's leading trade partner, Palestinians’ primary financial backer and as the sounding board of all the conflicts in the Middle East, Europe cannot remain a spectator of the tragedy unfolding on its doorstep. But it is difficult to wake up from too long a slumber. Especially as words have been replaced, one more time, by the sound of weapons.