Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, slammed Israel’s actions against the Hamas terrorist group and appeared to call for a ceasefire, leading to criticism from Austria’s foreign minister for disregarding wording of an E.U. statement.
E.U. leaders gathered last Thursday for a two-day meeting on the Gaza war, in which they condemned Hamas in the strongest terms and called for “pauses for humanitarian needs.”
However, Borrell appeared to twist the statement’s wording into a condemnation of Israel, tweeting, “Far too many civilians, including children, have been killed. This is against International Humanitarian Law.”
The E.U. statement did not say that Israel had acted against international law, rather that Israel had the right to defend itself in accordance with international law.
Borrell also called for a “pause of hostilities,” an apparent reference to a ceasefire, whereas the E.U. statement was less explicit.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg pushed back on Borrell, responding, “On the situation in the Middle East, it is imperative to stick to the positions clearly expressed by Heads of States and Governments within the #EUCO.”
The Austrian foreign minister listed the main points of last week’s statement:
• “Condemnation in the strongest possible terms of #Hamas for its brutal and indiscriminate terrorist attacks across #Israel;
• “Israel’s right to defend itself in line with international law and international humanitarian law;
• “Call on Hamas to immediately release all hostages without any precondition;
• “Call for aid to reach those in need in Gaza including ‘humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs.'”
Even before the two-day meeting, E.U. members wrestled during the week over whether to call for a “pause” or “pauses” for humanitarian reasons.
Some countries such as Hungary, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria opposed the singular form.
“A single humanitarian pause would be too close to the concept of a ceasefire—when Israel has the right to defend itself from attack,” an E.U. diplomat told the BBC.
“A pause means both actors stop for good, whereas pauses is temporary,” the diplomat said.
Borrell became persona non grata in Israel in March, when officials signaled he wasn’t welcome and would refuse to meet with him if he came for a visit following comments he made equating Palestinian terrorist attacks with operations undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces.
In an article that month, Borrell wrote that “violence on the part of Israeli settlers in the West Bank is increasingly threatening Palestinian lives and livelihoods—almost always with impunity.”
Borrel is a long-time critic of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.